Meet H. Naledi, a Long-Lost Ancestor

SCIENCE

Scientists have discovered a new species of human ancestor deep in a South African cave, adding a baffling new branch to our family tree. (Nat Geo News)

How might H. naledi change “Hominin History”? Browse our fun GeoStory to find out!

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

The Rising Star cave yielded a dazzling 737 partial or complete anatomical fossils from several individuals. The fossils in the middle of this photo are not a single “skeleton,” but a collection that represent multiple individuals. Photograph courtesy eLife and Lee R. Berger et. al CC-BY-4.0

The Rising Star cave yielded a dazzling 737 partial or complete anatomical fossils from several individuals. The fossils in the middle of this photo are not a single “skeleton,” but a collection that represent multiple individuals of the Homo naledi species.
Photograph courtesy eLife and Lee R. Berger et. al CC-BY-4.0

Discussion Ideas

  • 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.

 

 

  • 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.

 

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: This Face Changes the Human Story. But How?

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

7 responses to “Meet H. Naledi, a Long-Lost Ancestor

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  4. All the very best to Berger and his team for their investigation…. Maybe RISING STAR will prove a SHINING STAR of their careers. God knows how old are these teeth jaws and bones but it will be exiting to get news about homo Naledi’s age…

    Like

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