|Representatives of Homo naledi stood between 140 and 160 centimeters tall, but had a brain that was quite small for this size. Also, their teeth more closely resemble those of earlier hominin species. Image courtesy of John Hawks.|
A recent edition to the human family tree doesn't fit in clearly yet.
John Hawks... With Berger, I helped organize a symposium to describe our ongoing work at the April meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Atlanta. The session gave an opportunity for 13 members of our team, mostly early-career scientists, to present ongoing and unpublished work to colleagues from around the world. We aimed to provide a comprehensive view of the biology of this new species, with presentations covering every part of the body, literally from head to toe. This research begins to address the big questions about H. naledi, but many of those questions still don’t have answers.
Early in the morning session, team members Lauren Schroeder of the University of Buffalo, Lucas Delezene of the University of Arkansas, and Matthew Skinner of the University of Kent described the teeth and skulls of the H. naledi material. The overall pattern of these specimens is unique, with a confusing mix of seemingly primitive and derived traits. The species has several anatomical details also known in early species of our genus, such as Homo habilis and early members of Homo erectus. But it has a much smaller brain size than is typical of these species. In this and several aspects of its teeth, H. naledi resembles species that branched from our family tree much earlier in time, such as 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, the species of the famous “Lucy” fossil skeleton. [...] American Scientist