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Activity 8: What Should We Do with Homo naledi?


The prehistory of humans is still being unearthed. In 2013, a new find in South Africa gave us a look at an improbable combination of older and more evolved traits in at least 15 individuals. Excavated by Lee Berger and his team and named Homo naledi, this new species has:

· Curved fingers, but with otherwise “modern” (i.e., similar to human) hands

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· A human-like foot but an early hominin body

· A brain of only around 560 cm3 (compared to a modern human brain of around 1200 cm3)

The fossils have been dated to be from 335,00 to 236,000 ya.

What can we make of Homo naledi?


1. Watch “New Human Ancestor Discovered: Homo naledi  by National Geographic Video.

2. Learn how paleoartists reconstruct the look of a species by watching “ Building the Face of a Newly Found Ancestor, ” also by National Geographic Video.

3. Examine the map below.

Map of cave system where Homo naledi was found. At the top of the image, there is a map of Africa, showing the location of Rising Star cave in South Africa. On the right is a description which reads, "Deep in the Dark Zone. The bones were found in a chamber named Dinaledi (chamber of stars), accessible only through a narrow chute, almost a hundred yards from the cave entrance. How they got there is a mystery. The most plausible answer so far: Bodies were deopped in rom above. Hundreds of fossils have been recovered, most excavated from a pit a mere yard square. More fossils surely await. CROSS SECTION OF CAVE TODAY." Below this is the cross section. There are several entrances to the cave system. Some drop strait down approximately 50 meters and at least one is at an approximately 45-degree angle. At the bottom of the entry, approximately 150 meters in is an area called Superman's Crawl, which is less than 10 inches high. This leads to a tall chamber with the far side again climbing up in an area called Dragon's back. This again leads to a very narrow crawl space which drops down in the Dinaledi chamber and the fossil site.

Source: “ This Face Changes the Human Story. But How ?” National Geographic.


Question 1 (35 points)

If in fact, Homo naledi buried their dead, what might that imply about Homo naledi’s social behavior and intelligence?


Question 2 (35 points)

The earliest known burial site is a 100,000-year-old Homo sapiens site in Israel. There is also evidence of intentional burial in our close relatives, Homo neanderthalensis. It has long been thought that mortuary practices require a high degree of symbolic thinking that only developed with our increased brain size. What might it mean if a species with such a small brain as Homo naledi engaged in burials?


Question 3 (30 points)

Can you think of any other possible explanations for the presence of these fossil remains? (If your mind is on the Piltdown Man, keep in mind that we know a lot more about fossils now, and are very unlikely to fall for a hoax.)


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