Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture

Lecture | John Hawks | Homo Naledi and the Evolution of Human Behavior

Episode Summary

Lecture | John Hawks |Homo Naledi and the Evolution of Human Behavior

Episode Notes

Hominin remains were discovered in October, 2013 within the Rising Star cave system, inside the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, South Africa. Lee Berger and the University of the Witwatersrand organized excavations with a skilled team of archaeologists and support of local cavers, which have to date uncovered 1550 hominin skeletal specimens. The hominin remains represent a minimum of 15 individuals of a previously undiscovered hominin species, which we have named Homo naledi. Aside from its subtantially smaller brain, H. naledi is cranially similar to early Homo species such as Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis and early Homo erectus, but its postcranial anatomy presents a mosaic that has never before been observed, including very humanlike feet and lower legs, a primitive australopith-like pelvis and proximal femur, primitive ribcage and shoulder configuration, generally humanlike wrists and hand proportions, combined with very curved fingers and a powerful thumb. The geological age of the fossils is not yet known. The Dinaledi Chamber contains no macrofauna other than the hominin remains, and geological study of the cave system rules out most hypotheses for the deposition of the hominin bone, including predator or scavenger accumulation, catastrophic death, and flood accumulation. Our preferred hypothesis for the hominin assemblage is deliberate deposition by H. naledi itself. This presentation will review Homo naledi from the initial discovery of the fossils to their interpretation and their relevance to understanding the evolution of human behavior. (February 25, 2016)