Homo naledi, the mosaic of archaic and modern human, whose discovery two years ago was published in the journal Elife was touted to be around 3 million years old. New dating evidence places Homo naledi in the 300,000 to 200,000 time period where they could have have overlapped with early examples of our own kind, Homo sapiens.

Homo naledi has much in common with early forms of the genus Homo
Homo naledi has much in common with early forms of the genus Homo – John Hawks

John Hawks, from the University of Wisconsin clarified on the BBC’s Inside Science radio program saying,

“They’re the age of Neanderthals in Europe, they’re the age of Denisovans in Asia, they’re the age of early modern humans in Africa. They’re part of this diversity in the world that’s there as our species was originating…

…”We have no idea what else is out there in Africa for us to find – for me that’s the big message. If this lineage, which looks like it originated two million years ago was still hanging around 200,000 years ago, then maybe that’s not the end of it. We haven’t found the last [Homo naledi], we’ve found one.”

Below are some of anatomical comparisons of modern people with Homo naledi which hark back to features of earlier, archaic humans. Features seen some two million years ago or more.

2 thoughts on “Homo naledi Could Be Much Younger Than Previous Thought

  1. Very interesting, thanks. Whatever the age of naledi, IMO we can make good guesses about how they lived & moved. The curved handbones suggest they frequently climbed vertically (below-branch), but their hands were not as elongated as those of chimpanzees, which suggests naledi climbed less frequently arms overhead than chimps do. Naledi’s humanlike feet are also seen in prenatal chimps: “The embryo of a chimpanzee at one stage has a foot resembling that of man in that its great toe points forward … Only as it approaches its birth size does its foot acquire the appearance of a hand. At no stage in its development does the human foot resemble that of an adult ape” (C.Coon “The Story of Man” p.12). Such plantigrade feet were not for running: cursorial species like ostriches & kangaroos have narrow & digitigrade feet with very long & strong middle digital rays, quite different from the broader & flatter feet of ducks, penguins, flamingoes & humans. Indeed, the naledi skeletons fossilized in mudstone, which forms in stagnant water (P.Dirks). All this suggests a water- & tree-rich environment such as where lowland gorillas as well as bonobos live, but possibly more open & swampy. Lowland gorillas spend some time in wetlands, where they wade upright in search for papyrus sedges & other “aquatic herbaceous vegetation” (AHV), google e.g. “gorilla bai” illustrations. And bonobos sometimes wade bipedally in forest swamps for waterlilies (AHV), and climb vertically in the branches above the swamp, google e.g. “bonobo wading”. I guess the fossilization was a natural process: naledi died where they fed, they fossilized in mudstone, and later the underground eroded away (cave formation): there’s no need to suppose “deliberate burial” (cf naledi’s ape-sized brains). Was it Homo or Australopithecus? IMO the Homo-like traits (esp. feet & hands) are not uniquely derived in the human direction, but primitive for all hominids (sensu Gorilla-Homo-Pan-australopithecines, versus pongids orangutans + fossil relatives: Sivapithecus, Lufengpithecus, Gigantopithecus etc.).

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