Researchers in South Africa believe they may have uncovered a brand new “relative” to humans, and they have named the new branch of the family tree Homo naledi.
The researchers said they stumbled on the find while deep in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa. The area where the remains were found has been dubbed the Dinaledi Chamber, and the species was named naledi, or star.
“Everywhere that my headlamp shone, I could see that there was bone on the floor. Not full bone but fragments of material,” Marina Elliott, one of the authors of the study detailing the find, told BBC News. “It was an incredible thing to see.”
By piecing together the bones, the researchers found a mix of both ape-like and human-like features. They’re still working to determine how old the bones are, but Eric Delson, an anthropologist from Lehman College in New York told the Associated Press that the finds appear similar to another group that dated to around 2 million years ago. Researchers said the newly discovered species most resembles other hominids such as Homo erectus, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis.
Ian Tattersall, curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, said the find was incredibly important and could shed important light on Homo sapiens, modern humans, as a species and the many other early hominoids.
“It’s really very exciting,” Tattersall told ABC News. “What this is doing is definitely increasing the perception that we have — that evolution of hominids was one of vigorous experimentation of evolution.”
Delson and Tattersall were not involved with the research group that made the discovery in South Africa.
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SOURCE: ABC News, Gillian Mohney