As a continent, Africa has been one of the richest sources of information about ancient people. Lucy, an Australopithecus genus of early hominins, was discovered in 1974 by researchers working in Ethiopia. She was 3.2 million years old, making her one of the earliest known human ancestors.
Africa has proven to be one of the most profitable wells of old human knowledge as a continent.
Lucy, an Australopithecus genus of early hominins, was discovered in 1974 by researchers working in Ethiopia.
Analysis showed that she was one of the earliest known human ancestors, 3.2 million years old.
The difference between this and the 200,000-year timetable for human evolution in East Africa is mind-boggling.
However, in 2017, fossils discovered in an ancient mine in Morocco turned this story on its head, with skeletons and artifacts going back to about 300,000 years.
And this was not the only big step forward in human history in the last ten years. Two years earlier, researchers were caving in South Africa when they found a completely new species of Homo.
Dr. Lee Berger has spent years mapping all the sites he has yet to visit in the Rising Star cave system in southern South Africa.
One of his most noteworthy expeditions to date was into a previously unexplored cave.
‘The Life of Earth: The Age of Humans,’ a Smithsonian Channel documentary, looked into the discovery.
“I had this map I created of almost 800 cave sites that were all entryways into the underworld that I had not been in yet – and that was the mission,” he said of the approach that led to the major discovery.
Dr. Berger had heard rumors of human remains in one of the cave’s corridors, so he began making arrangements to explore the cave’s unexplored areas.
Although some of the openings within the cavern were only a few inches wide, the outline of a figure eventually emerged from the murky darkness.
He said: “I was speechless, there I saw something I thought I would never see in my entire career, there was a clearly primitive hominid just lying there on the surface in the dirt.”
Dr. Berger’s team then discovered bones from 15 different skeletons dating back to the time when humans initially spread across Africa.
Surprisingly, the remains revealed information about a complete generation of ancient humans, from infants to the old.
Closer examination revealed that the bones did not belong to the type of human known to scientists, but to a completely new species.
From afar, Homo naledi, as the remains were dubbed, would have appeared to be human.
Close up, however, their proportions would have been drastically different: they were both quite short, with tiny heads and shoulders, and radically different facial features.
Naledi was one of a number of human-like species that lived 300,000 years ago alongside Homo sapiens.
Homo Erectus and Homo neanderthalensis were two other relatives.
Dr. Berger’s find was the greatest of its kind ever made on the African continent due to the sheer volume of the remains.
However, naledi is shrouded in mystery.
How did the remains end up in the cave, to begin with? And how did the little species coexist with its larger relatives?
Dr. Rick Potts, a paleoanthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History, said the discovery and others like it are pushing the idea of a linear human evolutionary scale out the window.
He said: “We used to see human evolutionary history as that march of progress, from ape-like to human beings.
“Instead, what we’ve learned is that there were contemporaries.
“Our evolutionary tree is branching and diverse like the evolutionary trees of almost all other organisms on Earth.”
Homo naledi has only been discovered in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in South Africa, roughly 40 kilometers from Johannesburg.
Image Credit: Getty
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