A new species of human ancestor has been discovered that is unlike any species known to date. The find was announced officially on Sept. 10 at 4:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
“It was announced to the world from Johanasburg at 10:30 in the morning their time,” said Assistant Professor of Anatomy Zachary Throckmorton at Lincoln Memorial University Debusk College of Medicine. “My wife and I got up to watch the live stream of the unveiling on my I Pad and my plan was to go back to sleep afterward, but I watched it and then saw what was happening in the media and I figured I better just get to school.”
Throckmorton has been one of the scientists involved with the project since early 2014. He joined the Rising Star Expedition when the research project offered the opportunity online for professors who where willing to drop everything and go to South Africa to do their part.
The fossil skeletons of at least fifteen individuals were discovered in September of 2013 by spelunkers in a cave not far from Johannesburg South Africa. A team of experts from around the world was assembled in order to document and collect hundreds of fossils found in what has been called the Dinaledi chamber of the Rising Star cave system.
The extinct Homo naledi is human-like in many ways. The size of a small person with hands and feet that resemble that of humans and a skull with a shape similar to ours but smaller, as is its brain. It also has a rib cage, pelvis, and shoulders that are very different than modern humans. Basically Homo naledi is a mix of human and non-human traits, having a combination of features seen both in ancient species, and more recent species of hominid.
Throckmorton said so many fossils have been found ranging from juveniles and young adults to the elderly of both sexes that science has been provided with an abundance of information on Homo naledi. It is currently being attempted to recover genetic material for DNA testing.
Feet are Throckmorton’s expertise and they are a very important aspect of Homo naledi. Unlike other primates, these skeletons are bipedal and would have walked upright like humans. The foot bones of Homo naledi have much more in common with modern humans than they do with the older Australopithecines and other early members of our genus Homo.
“My team worked with the foot and ankle,” said Throckmorton. “We worked together while we were all there together When we all went home we continued to work on our papers so they would pass peer review and be eligible for publication in a scientific journal. From the very first moment we started looking at the material we knew it was spectacular and special. There is an old saying that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that is what we try to provide. The materials we have published on as of yet are just the tip of the iceberg though. Research is ongoing”
The formal scientific papers on Homo naledi are available to be read by the public online in the eLIFE Journal at elifesciences.org/content/4/e09560.
Reach William Tribell at 606 302-9100 or on Twitter @wtribellmdn