News October 08, 2015 at 08:03 am

New Homo Naledi Research Reveals They Swung in Trees But Walked Upright

Abena Agyeman-Fisher | Editor-in-chief, F2FA

Abena Agyeman-Fisher October 08, 2015 at 08:03 am

October 08, 2015 at 08:03 am | News

Homo naledi, discovered in South Africa, could combine land walking and tree swinging. Photograph: Mark Thiessen/National Geographi/PA
Homo naledi

Homo naledi, discovered in South Africa, could combine land walking and tree swinging. Photograph: Mark Thiessen/National Geographi/PA

The research conducted on the right hand and a foot of the recently discovered Homo naledi (pictured), a human species found in South Africa, has given more insight in to how they lived, reports the Guardian.

RELATED: SCIENTISTS DISCOVER BURIAL CHAMBER OF NEW HUMAN SPECIES IN SOUTH AFRICA

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In September, scientists announced that they had discovered a number of skeletons in the Cradle of Humankind.

As Face2Face Africa previously reported:

After six scientists crawled through tunnels in the Rising Star cave — which is a part of the Cradle of Humankind, located about 40 kilometers from Johannesburg and home to 40 percent of the world’s human ancestor fossils — they reportedly came upon a chamber that had hundreds of bones.

Lead Scientist Prof. Lee Berger says of the experience, “We’d gone in with the idea of recovering one fossil. That turned into multiple fossils. That turned into the discovery of multiple skeletons and multiple individuals.

“And so by the end of that remarkable 21-day experience, we had discovered the largest assemblage of fossil human relatives ever discovered in the history of the continent of Africa. That was an extraordinary experience.”

Berger and his team found 15 partial skeletons, which is indeed the biggest single discovery on the continent.

The find further invigorated the debate on what so-called early humans were like, when they exactly lived, and what were they capable of.

The latter consideration is of particular consequence given that Homo naledi’s brains are reportedly the size of gorilla’s. For researchers, a small brain customarily indicates that a particular species’ intelligence levels are similar to animal’s; however, a closer inspection of Homo naledi’s burial ground seemingly counters that theory, revealing that they were capable of both “ritual behavior” and “symbolic thought,” which dismantles previous theories about small-brained early human’s capabilities.

Since the discovery, researchers have been working feverishly to piece together the lives of the Homo naledi, and so far, an analysis of their hand syncs with researcher’s initial observations of what curved fingers mean for the species.

The Guardian reports:

Scientists have now performed more detailed studies on a near complete right hand and more than a hundred pieces of foot bone and, in two papers published in the journal Nature Communications, reveal how extraordinary the remains are.

The wrist and thumb show that Homo naledi had a powerful grasp and was well-equipped for making and using stone tools. But these more modern features sit alongside highly curved fingers, a signature of early human ancestors that lived in the trees.

Tracy Kivell, who studied the hand bones at the University of Kent, adds, “That combination was really quite surprising. It shows you can have a hand that is quite specialised for manipulation and tool use in a species that is still using its hands for climbing, and moving around in the trees or on rocks.”

And while the Homo naledi’s curved fingers indicate that they did indeed spend time in the trees, the bone composition of their foot suggests that they spent the majority of their time walking upright on their feet.

William Harcourt-Smith, who is leading the team investigating the foot bones at the City University of New York, says, “It was unequivocally spending more time walking upright than not. But you can imagine it spending time in the trees to gather fruit, or perhaps nesting in trees, or going there when there are predators around.”

So far, Harcourt-Smith’s team has also been able to determine that the Homo naledi were flat-footed.

The Guardian reports:

[The team]…analysed 107 pieces of Homo naledi foot bone. Writing in the journal, they describe how the foot is similar to those of Neanderthals and modern humans, but with a number of subtle differences. The toe bones are slightly curved, which may have helped Homo naledi a little when it took to the trees. The arch of the foot is low, or absent entirely, making Homo naledi flat-footed.

One significant detail both teams have not been able to figure out, though, is the date of the bones. The omitted information means that they are still unable to place the Homo naledi in the so-called story of human evolution, ultimately leaving even more questions unanswered.

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