A team of paleontologists has revealed they have found the world’s oldest known burial site in South Africa, containing the remains of a distant relative of humans.
An extinct human species that lived thousands of years ago may have deliberately buried its dead and carved important symbols into the tomb, according to finds found in a South African cave.
The discovery baffled experts, as it is believed to be advanced behaviors generally considered unique to Neanderthals and modern Homo sapiens.
A practice that challenges our knowledge of human evolution
The newly discovered tombs, They date from between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago. and belong to a mysterious archaic human species called homo naledia hominid discovered in the system of Rising Star Caves in the Cradle of Humankind in Africa in 2013.
Homo naledi had human-like hands and feet, was about 1.5 meters (five feet) tall, and had a brain one-third the size of modern humans, a feature researchers previously attributed to a marker much taller and less intelligent than their Homo sapiens. parents.
Artist’s reconstruction of Homo naledi from the remains of a skull found in the Rising Star Cave. Credit: Mark Thiessen / Nat Geo.
However, the recent discovery undermines everything we thought we knew about human evolution. For a long time, paleoarchaeologists assumed that bigger brains eventually gave our ancestors more complex thinking, which allowed for the development of complicated language, fire control, and other advanced concepts, such as burying your dead. This finding, according to the researchers, begin to change this conventional wisdom.
Homo naledi fossil research team at the Institute for Evolutionary Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg). Credit: Robert Clark/National Geographic.
The research team discovered the remains of adult and infant Homo naledi that were buried in the fetal position in cave depressions and covered with soil. The position and intact condition of some skeletal remains suggest that the dead could have been carefully placed on the ground, rather than thrown haphazardly and carelessly.
Image showing two grave goods discovered in the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star Cave. Credit: Lee Berger.
Symbols found in tombs include deeply carved hatching and other geometric shapes. Similar symbols found in other caves were carved by early Homo sapiens 80,000 years ago and by Neanderthals 60,000 years ago, which experts say were used as a means of recording and share information.
An ancient practice that wasn’t exclusive to humans?
The oldest previously discovered burials, found in the Middle East and Africa, contained the remains of Homo sapiens and were around 100,000 years old.
“The results demonstrate that mortuary practices were not limited to ‘Homo sapiens’ or other large-brained hominids,” said Lee Berger, the research’s lead paleoanthropologist.
For Berger, “this would not only mean that humans are not the only ones to develop symbolic practices, but that they may not even have invented such behaviors”.
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The research and findings are detailed in three studies available at BioRxiv.
Additionally, Berger and his colleagues will share the full Homo naledi discovery and how it could change the human family tree in “Unknown: Cave of Bones” coming to Netflix July 17.
Lee Berger holds up a reconstruction of the skull of Homo naledi.
Likewise, the information was compiled into a book co-authored by Berger and Dr. John Hawks, professor of anthropology and paleoanthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, titled “Cave of Bones: A True Story of Discovery, Adventure, and Human Origins,” available August 8.
References: CNN/National Geographic.
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