Charlotte Haigh and Victoria Siano
A team of scientists announced their discovery of previously unknown ancestors to the human lineage in a cave in South Africa known as “Rising Star” on Sept. 10, 2015.
Two years ago, local cavers Nick Hunter and Steven Tucker were exploring the “Rising Star” and found a narrow entrance. Upon entering it, they found skeletons strikingly similar to those of a human.
The two cavers contacted Dr. Lee R. Berger, an American paleoanthropologist. Dr. Berger, a professor at the University of Witwatersrand, was studying human evolution, arguing the theory that a species of humans existed between the million year gap between Australopithecus afarensis and the Homo erectus species in our evolution. He argued that this type of data would be found in South Africa. This idea proved unpopular among many other scientists, until the pictures from the Rising Star cave were discovered, showing a variety of undiscovered fossils.
In order to search the cave for more skeletons, Berger would need individuals that not only had scientific credentials and experience in caving, but were skinny enough to travel through the narrow cave.
He made such an announcement on Facebook and within a week had six qualified explorers willing to do the job. Berger also hired a team of sixty scientists to analyze the evidence found by the explorers above ground. With the assistance of local cavers, the scientists were able to thread two miles of power cables into the fossil chamber, where they were be able to view the explorers’ progress via cameras.
What they found was a human body structure unlike anything they had seen before. The species had a small skull, with a brain about one-third the size of the human brain today. Their bodies were slender, weighing about 100 lbs., and standing at an average height of five feet. Their curved fingers suggest that they might have been good climbers, and their long legs and feet that are similar to a modern human’s show they were able to walk long distances standing upright.
This species was named Homo Naledi. Berger believes there are possibly hundreds, maybe thousands of fossils still down in the caves. Scientists are still not sure where they existed in our lineage, but with more research, hopefully, will come more answers.