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// University News

10 Sep 2015

Loughborough academics help unearth mystery of new species of human relative

Photo credit: National Geographic

Two of Loughborough University’s growth experts are amongst an international team of scientists studying a new species of human relative discovered in a South African cave.

The new species, Homo naledi, appears to have intentionally deposited bodies of its dead in a remote cave chamber, a behaviour previously thought limited to humans.

Professors Noël Cameron and Barry Bogin of the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS) have been recruited to help determine how close to modern humans the new species, Homo naledi, really is.  

The finds are described in two papers published in the scientific journal eLifeand reported in the cover story of the October issue of National Geographic magazine and a NOVA/National Geographic Special (#NalediFossils).

Consisting of more than 1,550 numbered fossil elements, the discovery is the single largest fossil hominin find yet made on the continent of Africa. The initial discovery was made in 2013 in a cave known as Rising Star in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, some 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, by University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) scientists and volunteer cavers. The fossils, which have yet to be dated, lay in a chamber about 90 meters from the cave entrance, accessible only through a chute so narrow that a special team of very slender individuals was needed to retrieve them.

So far, the team has recovered parts of at least 15 individuals of the same species, a small fraction of the fossils believed to remain in the chamber. “With almost every bone in the body represented multiple times, Homo naledi is already practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage,” said Lee Berger, research professor in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, who led the two expeditions that discovered and recovered the fossils.

Loughborough’s professors, both internationally recognised experts in the field of human growth and development, were invited to join the research team with the specific aim of studying the post-cranial skeletons of pre-adult individuals. 

Read the full press release for more information