“Remarkable” Fossils of Ancient Human Relatives Unearthed

Sharon Renee History /
rising star human remains
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Human ancestry dates back thousands upon thousands of years, making it one of science's biggest puzzles. But thanks to a recent, chilling discovery in a South African cave, we may be one step closer to putting those pieces together. From the ancient fossils found, to the answers they may hold, here's what to know...

homo naledi fossils found
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On November 5, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, along with a team of South African researchers, first revealed the big news: the fossils of an ancient child had been discovered in the Rising Star cave, dating back roughly 236,000 to 335,000 years ago. But the skull's striking age wasn't the only fact that piqued Berger's interest. "This is the first partial skull of a child of Homo naledi yet recovered," Juliet Brophy, lead author of the study, explained.

rising star cave fossils
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Named "Leti," - or "the lost one" in Setswana - the ancient remains offer a chance to better understand human evolution. "This begins to give us insight into all stages of life of this remarkable species," Brophy added. After all, there's still lots to be learnt about our ancient human relatives. "Homo naledi remains one of the most enigmatic ancient human relatives ever discovered," Berger further explained. And perhaps with good reason...

homo naledi skull cave
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Boasting brains the size of an orange and abnormal bones - equipped for climbing and maneuvering tools - Homo naledis were quite different than any modern day human. Hopefully, the "child of darkness" will help bridge the gap even further. "I think some scientists assumed they knew how human evolution happened, but these new fossil discoveries, plus what we know from genetics, tell us that the southern half of Africa was home to a diversity that we've never seen anywhere else," John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Wits University, explained of a prior discovery in the rich South African site.

ancient skull rising star
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Safe to say, the Rising Star cave holds more secrets than meets the eye. "I think there is likely a lot more to find in the cave system," researcher in Physical and Biological Anthropology, Marina Elliot, assured. "But there is also a lot of work that still needs to be done... and so many questions remain to be answered." Stay tuned while this story develops...