Mystery surrounds remains of early hominid child who died almost 250,000 years ago

JOHANNESBURG – The fossil remains of an early hominid child who died nearly 250,000 years ago were discovered by a team of international and South African researchers in a cave in South Africa.

The team announced the discovery of part of the skull and teeth of a Homo naledi child who died around the age of four to six.

The remains were found in a remote part of the cave, suggesting the body was deliberately placed there, in some sort of tomb, said Professor Guy Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who led the team, in an announcement Thursday.

The placement “adds a mystery to how these many remains came to be in these remote, dark rooms of the Rising Star Cave system,” he added.

Homo naledi is a type of archaic human found in the Rising Star Cave, the cradle of mankind, 48 km northwest of Johannesburg. Homo naledi dates from the middle Pleistocene 335,000–236,000 years ago.

The first discovery, which was first announced publicly in 2015, includes 1,550 specimens representing 737 different elements and at least 15 different individuals.

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“Homo naledi remains one of the most enigmatic ancient human relatives ever discovered,” said Berger. “It is clearly a primitive species that existed at a time when we previously thought that only modern humans lived in Africa.”

He added that “its very presence at this time and place complicates our understanding of who did what first in inventing complex stone tool cultures and even ritual practices.”

The new discovery is described in two articles in the journal PaleoAnthropology.

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