Homo naledi- a real puzzle to get you through lockdown

Imagine you opened a disused garage, and found a very strange Rolls Royce car parked in it. And that you can climb all over, with your flashlight and keys, can open it up to look under the hood, at the serial numbers, and inside the boot. Imagine that the wheels were from a 1968 Silver Shadow. The engine is from the 1937 Phantom 111. The seats and fittings are perfect for a 1979 Carmargue. The bodywork is a classic 1965 Phantom V, the big ones you see in the old Beatles and James Bond films. Then you open the glove compartment and find the tax and insurance documents: this thing was running around in 2010. Do you think that you might be puzzled?

Such was the sort of problem given to the world by Professor Lee Berger when he discovered one of the largest, best preserved and frankly, strangest, collection of human fossils ever made, in the Rising Star Caves in South Africa. They are like no other human fossils found, because they are a bit like every other human fossil ever found-in various ways. He called his new species Homo naledi, as naledi means star in one of the local languages.

Their brains are so small that you would expect to find them in pre human ancestors, or the most absolute early humans- a design that fits to about three million years ago. The body shape is a bit apish in places, and they may have spent some time in trees. However, the general shape of the head and the structure of the brain, are more like those of modern humans, and this includes the teeth. The hands look very modern too, as though they were good at skilled movements. They could walk upright very well , but may not have been very good at long distance endurance running, unlike some earlier humans, who could use this skill to run large animals to death. You can find many more comparisons in the links below.

It gets even odder. No tools were found; yet humans and pre-humans had been making tools for millions of years before H Naledi. In fact no artefacts of any kind have been found. There is no evidence of fire use. At this time several other types of humans had been cheerfully using fire for hundreds of thousands of years. Yet all the bodies were found in deep caves, with almost no possibility of them having been dragged their by wild animals. It looks as if they were burying their dead. However, the real shocker is the date, which comes in at 335-236 000 years before the present. You would have expected something with a brain this small, and no tools, to have lived more like 3.35-2.36 million years ago, not thousand. yet the burial practices are way ahead of their time: the first evidence of modern humans and Neanderthals doing this is hundreds of thousands of years later. For more data on this, go to the links below.

So what is going on? Were they a survival of a very primitive type of human, that somehow clung on? On an island, perhaps: but it’s hard to see that in South Africa, which is wide open to migration by other humans. Why are their no tools of any kind? Some say that tools we have found elsewhere may have been made by them. Which is not evidence; no jury would convict on the basis of a knife found somewhere else, with no link to a defendant. Were they really burying their dead, or is there some other explanation? Had they found an odd drug in a plant and become decadent, spending their days in intoxicated orgies? Not likely in the African bush, with so many lions, leopards, hostile humans, and hyaenas about. There is even a suggestion that they were a sort of cross between humans and a pre human ancestor called Australopithecus. Which would have been like sex with a chimpanzee, albeit one that walked on two legs.

We at LSS believe that the worst sort of people you can meet are the ones who know all the answers. There are no easy answers to this one . Sometimes, science throws up ambiguities, and the frankly inexplicable. We invite you to look at the sites below (there are many more if you want more data) and take it in the spirit of a puzzle for corona lockdown. Maybe it’ll make a change from all those computer games.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_naledi

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Homo-naledi

#leeberger #homonaledi #humanevolution #anomalies #risingstarcave

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