Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.
- Nat Geo Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger led the effort to study Homo naledi, a new species of human ancestor called a hominin. What is a hominin?
- We are! Hominins are a tribe of the hominid family of primates, distinguished by erect posture, bipedal movement, large cranial capacity, and use of specialized tools. Human beings are the only living hominins.
- Why is the genus “Homo” so important to hominin finds?
- Our own species is Homo sapiens sapiens. Determining a fossil is a hominin of our own genus identifies it as a direct ancestor or relative of modern human beings.
- What hominins does Homo naledi share characteristics with?
- H. naledi shares many characteristics with two main types of hominins: the Australopithecines and the “early Homos.”
- Extra credit: Compare characteristics of H. naledi with other species (from gorillas to humans to our East African cousins Lucy and Turkana Boy) here.
- Read through our little GeoStory on “Hominin History.” Besides Homo naledi, what other hominin fossils have been discovered in South Africa’s “Cradle of Humankind”?
- Australopithecus africanus. A. africanus, one of the oldest species of hominins found outside East Africa, lived from about 3.3 million to 2.1 million years ago.
- Paranthropus robustus. P. robustus lived from about 1.8 to 1.2 million years ago, and had relatives (P. boisei) in East Africa. Just to confuse you: Sometimes these hominins are classified as Australopithecines, so you’ll see A. robustus on some materials and P. robustus on others.
- Australopithecus sediba. Like H. naledi, A. sediba was discovered by Lee Berger and his team of anthropologists—including is 9-year-old son! A. sediba lived about 1.9 million years ago.
- We don’t know how old our long-lost ancestor is—Homo naledi hasn’t been dated yet. Nat Geo provides three possible eras for the species here. Where would these dates put H. naledi in our GeoStory?
- Nudging out Lucy: If H. naledi lived between 4 million and 3 million years ago, it might be the second or third “story point” in our GeoStory, possibly coexisting with Australopithecus anamensis, Australopithecus afarensis, or the enigmatic hominins who left the Laetoli footprints.
- Early Homo: If H. naledi lived between 2 million and 3 million years ago, it might be the seventh or eighth story point in our GeoStory, possibly coexisting with Australopithecus africanus, Homo habilis, or Paranthropus boisei.
- Homo: If H. naledi lived as recently as a million years ago, it may have coexisted with “late Homos” such as Homo heidelbergensis, Neanderthals, and even early Homo sapiens.
Nat Geo: Hominin History
Nat Geo: Mystery Man Unearthed
Nat Geo: Rising Star Expedition
Nat Geo/NOVA: Dawn of Humanity
(extra credit!) eLife: Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa