Thursday, September 10, 2015

New human species found. Discovery in S.Africa shines light on origin of mankind

The fossilized bones of 15 bodies from a previously unknown human species have been discovered in a cave in South Africa, it was announced Thursday, in what scientists hailed as a breakthrough in evolution research.

About 1,500 fossils were found deep in a cave system outside Johannesburg, hidden in an underground chamber only accessible via several steep climbs and rock crevasses.

The new species has been named "Homo naledi" after the "Rising Star" cave where the bones were found. Naledi means "star" in Sesotho, a local South African language.

Experts are uncertain how old the bones are, but say they were probably placed there after death - a discovery that shines fresh light on the origin of the mankind.

"We have just met a new species of human relative that deliberately disposed of its dead," Lee Berger, research professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, announced as the fossils were unveiled.

"Until this moment in history we thought the idea of ritualized behaviors directed toward the dead ... was actually unique to Homo sapiens.

"We saw ourselves as different. We have now seen, we believe, a species that had that same capability - and it is an extraordinary thing."

The bones were first discovered in 2013 by Witwatersrand University scientists and volunteer cavers in the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 50 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg.

Ancient human remains have been found in the area since excavations began in the 1920s.

"The discovery of so many fossils belonging to at least 15 individuals is remarkable," said Professor Chris Stringer, from the Natural History Museum in London, one of the lead analysts on the discovery.

The find highlighted "the complexity of the human family tree and the need for further research to understand the history and ultimate origins of our species," Stringer added.

Scientists say the hands, wrists and feet of the bodies were similar to modern humans, but the brain size and upper body were much more like the earliest humans.

"Homo naledi had a tiny brain, about the size of an average orange, perched atop a very slender body," said John Hawks, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a senior author on the academic paper detailing the new species.

Homo naledi stood approximately 1.5 meters tall and weighed about 45 kilograms.

"The hands suggest tool-using capabilities," said Tracy Kivell of the University of Kent, in Britain, who was part of the team that studied Homo naledi's anatomy.

"Surprisingly, Homo naledi has extremely curved fingers, more curved than almost any other species of early hominin, which clearly demonstrates climbing capabilities," she said.

  • Une nouvelle espèce du genre humain découverte en Afrique du Sud...

L'Homo naledi a été présenté, jeudi, en Afrique du Sud. Cette espèce, appartenant à la famille de l'homme moderne, aurait vécu il y a plus de trois millions d'années.

"Je suis ravi de vous présenter une nouvelle espèce du genre humain". L'Homo naledi a été dévoilé au public, jeudi 10 septembre, par le professeur Lee Berger, de l'Université de Witwatersrand en Afrique du sud.

Il mesurait environ 1,5 mètre et pesait 45 kilos, tandis que son cerveau avait la taille d'une orange. L'Homo naledi vivait sur le continent africain il y a environ trois millions d'années.

Ses mains "laissent supposer qu'il avait la capacité de manier des outils", ses doigts étaient extrêmement incurvés. "Il est pratiquement impossible de distinguer ses pieds de ceux d'un homme moderne", précise un communiqué conjoint de l'université du Wits, la National Geographic Society et du ministère sud-africain des Sciences.

Découverte "remarquable"

L'Home naledi présente aussi des caractéristiques très particulières : "Certains aspects, comme ses mains, ses poignets et ses pieds, sont très proches de ceux de l'homme moderne. Dans le même temps, son petit cerveau et la forme de la partie supérieure de son corps sont plus proches du groupe pré-humain des australopithèques", explique le professeur Chris Stringer du Musée d'histoire naturelle de Londres.....................

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