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Pictures | Thu Sep 10, 2015 | 8:35am EDT

New human ancestor found

Professor Lee Berger holds a replica of the skull of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", during its unveiling outside Johannesburg, September 10 2015. Humanity's claim to uniqueness just suffered another setback: scientists reported on Thursday that the newly discovered ancient species related to humans also appeared to bury its dead. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Professor Lee Berger holds a replica of the skull of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", during its unveiling outside Johannesburg, September 10 2015. Humanity's claim to uniqueness just suffered another setback: scientists...more

Professor Lee Berger holds a replica of the skull of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", during its unveiling outside Johannesburg, September 10 2015. Humanity's claim to uniqueness just suffered another setback: scientists reported on Thursday that the newly discovered ancient species related to humans also appeared to bury its dead. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Fossils of the creature were unearthed in a deep cave near the famed sites of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans, treasure troves 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Johannesburg that have yielded pieces of the puzzle of human evolution for decades. The new species has been named 'Homo naledi', in honor of the "Rising Star" cave where it was found. Naledi means "star" in South Africa's Sesotho language.  

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Fossils of the creature were unearthed in a deep cave near the famed sites of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans, treasure troves 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Johannesburg that have yielded pieces of the puzzle of human evolution for decades. The new...more

Fossils of the creature were unearthed in a deep cave near the famed sites of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans, treasure troves 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Johannesburg that have yielded pieces of the puzzle of human evolution for decades. The new species has been named 'Homo naledi', in honor of the "Rising Star" cave where it was found. Naledi means "star" in South Africa's Sesotho language. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Paleoanthropologists concluded it buried its dead - a trait previously believed to be uniquely human - through a process of deduction. Africa's largest single collection of hominin (human and human-related) fossils was made up of 15 individuals, from infants to the elderly, pieced together from more than 1,500 fragments.

 REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Paleoanthropologists concluded it buried its dead - a trait previously believed to be uniquely human - through a process of deduction. Africa's largest single collection of hominin (human and human-related) fossils was made up of 15 individuals, from...more

Paleoanthropologists concluded it buried its dead - a trait previously believed to be uniquely human - through a process of deduction. Africa's largest single collection of hominin (human and human-related) fossils was made up of 15 individuals, from infants to the elderly, pieced together from more than 1,500 fragments. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Virtually no other remains from other species were found there and the bones bore no claw or tooth marks - suggesting they were not the leftovers from a predator's larder or death trap. "It does appear after eliminating all other possibilities that Homo naledi was deliberately disposing of its body in a repeated fashion," said Lee Berger of the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand. "That indicates to us that they were seeing themselves as separate from other animals and in fact perhaps from the natural world," he added.

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Virtually no other remains from other species were found there and the bones bore no claw or tooth marks - suggesting they were not the leftovers from a predator's larder or death trap. "It does appear after eliminating all other possibilities that...more

Virtually no other remains from other species were found there and the bones bore no claw or tooth marks - suggesting they were not the leftovers from a predator's larder or death trap. "It does appear after eliminating all other possibilities that Homo naledi was deliberately disposing of its body in a repeated fashion," said Lee Berger of the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand. "That indicates to us that they were seeing themselves as separate from other animals and in fact perhaps from the natural world," he added. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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He set aside another theory that they may have been hiding their dead deep underground, simply to keep off scavengers like the long-legged hyena. "They are only selecting their own dead. If they were doing that they would put everything in it that would attract a predator or a scavenger," he said. This is not the first time that the study of our relatives, extinct or living, has yielded evidence that humans do not have the monopoly on certain kinds of behavior. Jane Goodall in 1960 famously observed chimpanzees, our closest living relative, using grass stems for termite "fishing", the first recorded use of a crude tool by non-humans.

 REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

He set aside another theory that they may have been hiding their dead deep underground, simply to keep off scavengers like the long-legged hyena. "They are only selecting their own dead. If they were doing that they would put everything in it that...more

He set aside another theory that they may have been hiding their dead deep underground, simply to keep off scavengers like the long-legged hyena. "They are only selecting their own dead. If they were doing that they would put everything in it that would attract a predator or a scavenger," he said. This is not the first time that the study of our relatives, extinct or living, has yielded evidence that humans do not have the monopoly on certain kinds of behavior. Jane Goodall in 1960 famously observed chimpanzees, our closest living relative, using grass stems for termite "fishing", the first recorded use of a crude tool by non-humans. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Homo naledi, discovered in the cave in September 2013, had a brain slightly larger than a chimpanzee's, but its age remains an enigma, said Berger. This is because the specimens found were deliberately taken to the chamber, and so there are no rocks or sentiments under or overlaying them, he added. There are also no fossils with them from other animals that could provide clues.

REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Homo naledi, discovered in the cave in September 2013, had a brain slightly larger than a chimpanzee's, but its age remains an enigma, said Berger. This is because the specimens found were deliberately taken to the chamber, and so there are no rocks...more

Homo naledi, discovered in the cave in September 2013, had a brain slightly larger than a chimpanzee's, but its age remains an enigma, said Berger. This is because the specimens found were deliberately taken to the chamber, and so there are no rocks or sentiments under or overlaying them, he added. There are also no fossils with them from other animals that could provide clues. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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"But we can see from their physical morphology or appearance where their species originates in time. If our present understanding is correct, then that must be in excess of 2.5 million years," said Berger.

 REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

"But we can see from their physical morphology or appearance where their species originates in time. If our present understanding is correct, then that must be in excess of 2.5 million years," said Berger. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

"But we can see from their physical morphology or appearance where their species originates in time. If our present understanding is correct, then that must be in excess of 2.5 million years," said Berger. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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The surrounding area is a U.N. World Heritage site, named the "Cradle of Humankind" by the South African government because of its rich collection of hominin fossils.

 REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The surrounding area is a U.N. World Heritage site, named the "Cradle of Humankind" by the South African government because of its rich collection of hominin fossils. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The surrounding area is a U.N. World Heritage site, named the "Cradle of Humankind" by the South African government because of its rich collection of hominin fossils. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Fossils of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", are pictured during their unveiling outside Johannesburg September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Fossils of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", are pictured during their unveiling outside Johannesburg September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Fossils of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", are pictured during their unveiling outside Johannesburg September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa kisses a replica of the skull of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", during its unveiling outside Johannesburg, September 10, 2015.  REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa kisses a replica of the skull of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", during its unveiling outside Johannesburg, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa kisses a replica of the skull of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", during its unveiling outside Johannesburg, September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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