Buried in a limestone plateau in South Africa’s Rising Star Cave, the fragmented skull of a child Homo naledi suggested that the prehistoric species may have been more similar to modern humans than previously thought.
Two new studies, published this week in the journal PaleoAnthropology, have revealed new details about the mysterious Homo naledi people, based on a set of fossils first discovered in 2017, believed to be those of a young Homo naledi from 4 to 6 years old. -years.
An international team of researchers has estimated that the child would have lived between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago, before finding his final resting place in an extremely narrow passage of the UNESCO World Heritage site in the Malmani Dolomites, in South Africa’s Gauteng province, CNN reported.
The tiny, incomplete skull – divided into 28 parts, plus six teeth – was a particularly remarkable find for paleontologists, who noted that children’s remains are rare because their bones are generally more fragile than those of adults.
“This is the first partial skull of a Homo naledi child still recovered and it begins to give us insight into all stages of the life of this remarkable species,” said Juliet Brophy, lead author of one. studies, analyzing the child’s skull itself. .
They named the child Leti, short for letimela, meaning “the lost” in the South African language Setstwanna.
It was a “very difficult” search, according to the researchers, who found no trace of Leti’s body.
âThis was one of the most difficult sites with hominid fossils that we had to access in the Rising Star system,â said Marina Elliott, author of the cave location study and head of the ‘excavation team, in another statement.
Leti’s skull was located in a distant passage, only six inches wide by three feet long. Researchers believe the site may have served as a burial ground for Leti – a practice not generally seen in ancient hominid species.
“The area where Leti was found is part of a cobweb of cramped passages,” said Maropeng Ramalepa, a member of the cave exploration team.
Researchers believe that the Homo naledi species may have lived alongside humans for some time.
“Homo naledi remains one of the most enigmatic oldest human relatives ever to be discovered,” said lead researcher Lee Berger, professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. His research showed that Leti’s brain had reached 90 to 95% of its full capacity, which would have been 450 to 600 cubic centimeters (cc) – less than half the size of the adult human brain at 1,450 cc. Homo naledi’s hands, while human, exhibited a natural curve that suggests more specialized climbing abilities than modern people.
And the fact that Leti’s body was found in a barely accessible corner of the Rising Star Cave, where other Homo naledi remains have been identified, suggests that it may have been placed there on purpose. .
“It’s clearly a primitive species, existing at a time when previously we thought only modern humans were in Africa,” Berger explained. “His very presence at that time and in this place complicates our understanding of who did what first regarding the invention of intricate stone tool cultures and even ritual practices.