Homo naledi

Homo naledi
Temporal range: 0.335–0.236 Ma[1]
Homo naledi skeletal specimens.jpg
A sample of the 1,550 skeletal pieces recovered
Scientific classification e
Species:H. naledi
Binomial name
Homo naledi
Berger et al., 2015
Rising Star Cave Gauteng South Africa location map.svg
Location of discovery in Gauteng, South Africa

Homo naledi is an extinct species of hominin, which anthropologists first described in September 2015 and have assigned to the genus Homo.[2] In 2013, fossil skeletons were found in the Gauteng province of South Africa, in the Rising Star Cave system, part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site about 50 km (31 mi) northwest of Johannesburg.[2][3] Prior to dating, initial judgement based on archaic features of its anatomy favoured an age of roughly two million years old.[3] In 2017, however, the fossils were dated to between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago, long after much larger-brained and more modern-looking hominins had appeared.[1] The research team therefore thinks that H. naledi is not a direct ancestor of modern humans, although it is probably an offshoot within the genus Homo.[4]

The species is characterised by a body mass and stature similar to small-bodied human populations, a smaller endocranial volume similar to Australopithecus, and a skull shape similar to early Homo species. The skeletal anatomy presents ancestral features known from australopithecines with more recent features associated with later hominins. As of 10 September 2015, fossils of at least fifteen individuals, amounting to more than 1550 specimens, have been excavated from the cave.[2][3] Abundant fossil remains are still within the chamber.[5] Newer findings (remains of at least three individuals: two adults and a child) in a second chamber, known as Lesedi ("light" in the Sotho-Tswana languages), were reported by John Hawks et al. (2017).[6] In May 2018, anthropologists provided evidence that the brain of H. naledi was small, but nonetheless complex, sharing structural similarities with the modern human brain.[7][8]

The fossils were discovered by recreational cavers Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker in 2013.[3][9][10] Homo naledi was formally described in September 2015 by a 47-member international team of authors led by South African paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, who proposed the bones represent a new Homo species.[2] Other experts contend more analyses are needed to support this classification. There are some indications that the individuals may have been placed in the cave near the time of their death.[11]

The word "naledi" means "star" in the Sotho-Tswana languages. It, and the corresponding name Dinaledi Chamber ("chamber of stars"), were chosen to reference the Rising Star cave system where the fossils were found.[a]


On 13 September 2013, while exploring the Rising Star cave system looking for an extension, recreational cavers Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker of the Speleological Exploration Club (SEC) of South Africa found a narrow, vertically oriented "chimney" or "chute", measuring 12 m (39 ft) long with a very narrow width tightening in places to as small as approximately 20 cm (7.9 in).[3][10][11] This chute led to a room 30 m (98 ft) underground (Site UW-101, the Dinaledi Chamber), the surface of which was littered with fossil bones. Before exploring the cave that day, the cavers had been asked by fellow caver and geologist Pedro Boshoff to let him know if they came across any fossils.[3][12] On 1 October 2013, photographs were shown to Boshoff, who recognised their significance and delivered them to Lee Berger.[10][13]


Illustration of the Dinaledi Chamber within Rising Star Cave, where the bones of H. naledi were excavated

In November 2013, the National Geographic Society and the University of the Witwatersrand funded an expedition called Rising Star Expedition for a twenty-one-day excavation at the cave,[14] followed by a second expedition in March 2014 for a 4-week-excavation in the Dinaledi Chamber. In total, more than 1,550 pieces of bone belonging to at least fifteen individuals have been recovered from the clay-rich sediments.[2][15] The layered distribution of the bones suggests that they had been deposited over a long time, perhaps centuries.[3][11] Only one square metre of the cave chamber has been excavated; other remains might still be there.[16][17][18] Around 300 bone fragments were collected from the surface of the Dinaledi Chamber, and ∼1250 fossil specimens were recovered by excavation.[11] The fossils include skulls, jaws, ribs, teeth, bones of an almost complete foot, of a hand, and of an inner ear. The bones of old, young, and infants were found.[3] Although much of the fossil material is disarticulated (separated at joints), the deposit contains articulated or near-articulated examples such as the maxilla and mandible of single individuals and the bones of a nearly complete hand and foot.[2][9]

A tentative explanation for the fossil material being disarticulated and broken is that bodies were dropped from a considerable height (either the 12-meter entrance shaft or some since closed 30-meter surface shaft) and were later moved by periodic floods[citation needed].

The description of the new species was announced at a press conference on 10 September 2015 held at Maropeng, Cradle of Humankind, Johannesburg, South Africa.[2][3][19] A display case of the fossils was unveiled during the ceremony and subsequently, was on display to the public at Maropeng throughout September and October 2015.[20][21]


The University of the Witwatersrand is the curator of the fossils.[22] The fossils are owned by the Republic of South Africa and will likely stay there in accordance with a 1998 resolution by the International Association for the Study of Human Paleontology, also approved by a South African permanent council member of the organisation[23] – "strongly recommending that original hominid fossils not be transported beyond the boundaries of the country of origin, unless there are compelling scientific reasons which must include the demonstration that the proposed investigations cannot proceed in the foreseeable future in the country of origin".[22]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Homo naledi
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Zazaki: Homo naledi
中文: 纳莱迪人