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Human’s Strange Cousin Lived More Recently Than Scientists Believed

May 10, 2017 09:15 AM EDT
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Humans may have come from the Mediterranean, not Africa.
(Photo : Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

From their first discovery in South Africa two years ago, the Homo naledi had always been somewhat of an enigma, according to a report from Washington Post. The species strangely consisted of a patchwork of primitive and modern features.

Scientists have announced two new findings on the species that shape Homo naledi - and human history -- much more clearly.

With the original remains and additional fossils from a recently discovered cave, researchers realized that the Homo naledi actually lived more recently than originally thought. The bones dated between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago, revealing that the Homo naledi walked the Earth at the same time modern humans were already present, according to a report from The Guardian.

The new cave also provided evidence that these primitive human cousins may have displayed behavior considered quite modern, particularly burying their dead.

"I think the discovery of this second chamber adds to the idea that Homo naledi deliberately disposed of its dead in the deep underground chambers in the Rising Star cave system," lead researcher Lee Berger from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg said. "I can't see any other way, other than them going into these remote chambers themselves and bringing bodies in."

Naledi must have a very rich history, considering the length of their existence. The researchers argued that evidence pointed to the species emerging 2 million years ago as the genus Homo was only beginning to develop. Then, Naledi impressively managed to survive long enough to co-exist with modern humans.

"The past was a lot more complicated than we gave it credit for and our ancestors were a lot more resilient and lot more varied than we give them credit for," said Susan Anton, a paleoanthropologist at New York University who was not involved in the research. "We're not the pinnacle of everything that happened in the past. We just happen to be the thing that survived."

The team published their findings in a series of papers available in the open-access journal eLife.

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