Fifteen skeletons found in the Rising Star Cave, South Africa, offer evidence of a previously unknown branch of the genus Homo. Hundreds of fossil bones from these skeletons show feet and hands similar to living humans, combined with high shoulders, broad pelvis, and a flared ribcage typical of Australopithecus, the likely ancestor of Homo.
The human-like features mean that the fossil bones are best placed in the genus Homo. Yet features typical of Australopithecus, including long, curved finger bones, hint at the importance of tree-climbing in this bipedal group.
Since this combination of traits is unknown in the fossil record until now, the research team gives the fossils a new species name – Homo naledi.
Many questions arise from the discovery. The cave sediments and bones have yet to be dated. The individuals were dropped into the cave, raising the question of how the bodies got there. No stone tools or other cultural remains were found.
The discovery was announced by Dr. Lee Berger and his research team in the online journal eLife on September 10, 2015.
A view of all of the 1,550 Homo naledi fossils from the Rising Star Cave