A new haul of ancient human remains has been described from an important cave site in South Africa.
The finds, including a well-preserved skull, bolster the idea that the Homo naledi people deliberately deposited their dead in the cave.
Evidence of such complex behaviour is surprising for a human species with a brain that’s a third the size of ours.
Despite showing some primitive traits it lived relatively recently, perhaps as little as 235,000 years ago.
That would mean the naledi people could have overlapped with the earliest of our kind – Homo sapiens.
In a slew of papers published in the journal eLife, Prof Lee Berger from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Prof John Hawks from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, and their collaborators have outlined details of the new specimens and, importantly, ages for the remains.
The H. naledi story starts in 2013, when the remains of almost 15 individuals of various ages were discovered inside the Dinaledi chamber – part of South Africa’s Rising Star Cave system.
At the same time, the researchers were exploring a second chamber about 100m away, known as Lesedi (“light” in the Setswana language which is spoken in the region).