New species of human relative discovered in SA
The discovery of a new species of human relative, called Homo naledi was announced on September 10 2015 by the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University), the National Geographic Society, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF).
Jean-Paul Toutain, newly-appointed Attaché for science and technology at the French Embassy in Pretoria, Ludovic Mollier from the CNRS/IRD office in Pretoria and Alexandre Balondrade and Aude Zuliani from the scientific cooperation service of the French Embassy, attended the announcement.
Consisting of more than 1 550 numbered fossil elements, the discovery is the single largest fossil hominin find yet made on the African continent. The initial discovery was made in 2013 in a cave known as Rising Star in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
The fossils, which have yet to be dated, lay in a chamber about 90 meters from the cave entrance, accessible only through a chute so narrow that a special team of very slender individuals was needed to retrieve them.
So far the team recovered parts of at least 15 individuals of the same species.
“With almost every bone in the body represented multiple times, Homo naledi is already practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage,” said Lee Berger, research professor in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, who led the two expeditions that discovered and recovered the fossils.
Perhaps most remarkably, the context of the find has led the researchers to conclude that this primitive-looking hominin may have practiced a form of behaviour previously thought to be unique to humans. The fossils — which consist of infants, children, adults and elderly individuals — were found in a room deep underground that the team named the Dinaledi Chamber, or “Chamber of Stars”. This suggests the species intentionally buried their dead - a behaviour previously thought limited to humans.
Much remains to be discovered in the Rising Star cave. “This chamber has not given up all of its secrets,” Berger said. “There are potentially hundreds if not thousands of remains of H. naledi still down there.”
Soon France and South Africa will celebrate 20 years of cooperation in archeology during a 1-week seminar gathering internationally renowned scientists.
The Alliance Française of Johannesburg is organising a trip to the Cradle of Humankind for Heritage Day on September 24 - while the newly-discovered fossils will be exhibited.