"It absolutely questions what makes us human. And I don't think we know anymore what does."
Fellow humans, we have a new relative, meet Homo naledi. An international team of scientists have just revealed that our ancestor was discovered two years ago in a remote cave, 50 miles outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. As with many archeological finds, the discovery of this new species was completely accidental. A team of spelunkers found an interesting looking bone formation encased in a limestone wall deep in a cave located 30 meters underground in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. The discovery yielded over 1500 fossil elements containing the remains of at least 15 individuals. These bones are incredible addition to the fossil record, but its anthropological significance may be even more important.
Scientists concluded that the fossils were found in what once was a primitive burial chamber where Homo naledi laid its dead to rest. The entry tunnel holds evidence that Homo naledi used fire to light the way down into the dark chamber. This discovery is causing scientists to re-think the intelligence and sophistication of our ancient relatives because it was previously believed that humans began burying their dead 100,000 years ago.
According to Lee Berger, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, the importance of the burial chamber cannot be understated.
“We have just encountered another species that perhaps thought about its own mortality, and went to great risk and effort to dispose of its dead in a deep, remote, chamber right behind us. We had to come to the inevitable conclusion that Homo naledi, a non-human species of hominid, was deliberately disposing of its dead in that dark chamber. Why, we don't know...It absolutely questions what makes us human. And I don't think we know anymore what does.”