The Daily Galaxy

September 10, 2015

 

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Working in a cave complex deep beneath South Africa’s Malmani dolomites, an international team of scientists has brought to light an unprecedented trove of hominin fossils — more than 1,500 well-preserved bones and teeth — representing the largest, most complete set of such remains found to date in Africa. The discovery, cached in a barely accessible chamber in a subterranean labyrinth not far from Johannesburg, adds a new branch to the human family tree, a creature dubbed Homo naledi.

The remains, scientists believe, could only have been deliberately placed in the cave.Skeletal fossils of Homo naledi are pictured above in the Wits bone vault at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, on Sept. 13, 2014. The fossils are among nearly 1,700 bones and teeth retrieved from a nearly inaccessible cave near Johannesburg. The fossil trove was created, scientists believe, by Homo naledi repeatedly secreting the bodies of their dead companions in the cave. Analysis of the fossils — part of a project known as the Rising Star Expedition — was led in part by paleoanthropologist John Hawks, professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

So far, parts of at least 15 skeletons representing individuals of all ages have been found and the researchers believe many more fossils remain in the chamber. It is part of a complex of limestone caves near what is called “The Cradle of Humankind,” a World Heritage Site in Gauteng province well known for critical paleoanthropological discoveries of early humans, including the 1947 discovery of 2.3 million-year-old Australopithecus africanus.

 

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