The biodiversity of the human family tree just got bigger

Tring 8

Today’s announcement of the discovery in South Africa of a new extinct species in the genus Homo, named Homo naledi, is a major scientific discovery that may prove to be one of the findings of the year, if not the decade.  As I’ve mentioned previously, human evolution fascinates me and I could easily have been sucked into the frustrating, controversial and important world of the professional hominid hunter.  But I’m content to view and appreciate from a distance as palaeo-anthropologists make their amazing discoveries about human ancestral biodiversity, and I thought I’d collate the links to some of the main stories and items relating to today’s events:

The scientific paper describing Homo naledi has been published in the open-access online journal eLife, rather than a journal such as Nature or Science, the more usual outlet for such discoveries, presumably because the importance of the find certainly demands rapid publication.  Interestingly its Altmetric score is already 281, having been picked up by numerous news outlets, tweeted, blogged about, etc.

I first saw the story earlier today on the BBC News website; the long article has a video interview with Professor Lee Berger, lead author of the paper.  There is also video footage from today’s press conference in South Africa, presented by Professor John Hawks, in which he describes in more detail the significance of this fossil, with its mix of both primitive and more derived anatomical features.

The Guardian also ran the story, this time with some different video footage, including a view inside the cave where the fossils were found, and there’s a 40 minute podcast.

Finally, National Geographic, which funded the study, has some videos on YouTube, including a fascinating account of the workshop that was convened to study the fossils and more discussion of its significance and amazing footage of how the fossils were recovered from the cave, and how the species was reconstructed.

This is a story that will run and run: we don’t know how old the species is and there’s lots of speculation about the significance of finding such a large number of individuals all together in what appears to be a burial chamber.  It’s an exciting time to be interested in human evolution.

2 thoughts on “The biodiversity of the human family tree just got bigger

  1. Clem

    A bit tangential, but I find the source of funding for this research somewhat interesting. National Geographic has long been involved in funding research, but in other disciplines there has not been such a history of funding from NGO and commercial sources. For some other life science disciplines such non-traditional funding may become increasing common and significant in the future.

    Perhaps some future dive into this burial chamber will have a look for honey products or other evidence of ancestral life with pollinators??

  2. Pingback: Wild speculation: could the Bruniquel Cave Neanderthal structures represent a mammoth? | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

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