Homo naledi fossils

Watch: Becca Peixotto on the Homo Naledi Excavation

In 2013, two cavers came across human remains in the Rising Star Cave system near Johannesburg, South Africa, and American paleoanthropologist Lee Berger was eager to get a look at them. The only problem? The remains could only be accessed through a 7-inch- wide passageway, and Berger was too large to fit.

He put out a call for cavers with experience in paleontology or archaeology—and with very small stature. Becca Peixotto answered the call.

A current AU anthropology PhD student and graduate of the public anthropology master’s program, Becca was excited to join the expedition.

Working on an all woman-team of six scientist climbers, Becca helped excavate the largest collection of hominin remains ever found in Africa and contributed to the discovery of a new early human relative species: Homo naledi.

Listen as she shares a bit about her experience on the Rising Star Expedition.

Find out more about the Master’s Degree in Public Anthropology.

1 reply
  1. marc verhaegen says:

    Congratulations to all the excavators. It’s a fantastic find, although prof.Berger’s interpreatations are unnecessarily anthropocentric. Biologically it’s clear: the fossils lay in mudstone, which forms in stagnant water; naledi’s curved hand-bones show vertical tree-climbing: trees + staganant water = forest swamps & wetlands. The flat feet (which are not only seen in Homo, but also in prenatal Pan & Gorilla) were not in the first place adapted to running as prof.Berger believes (cursorial animals have narrow feet, very long middle toes etc.), but to wading or swimming. Lowland gorillas & bonobos also wade sometimes in forest swamps in search for papyrus, frogbit, waterlilies or so (google e.g. bonobo wading), but naledi with their flat feet did this much more frequently. The savanna-running ideas (endurance running etc.) are far-fetched anthropocentrisms: Pleistocene Homo did not disperse running over open plains as still often assumed, but simply followed the African coasts as far as e.g. England, China, the Cape & islands far overseas (Sulawesi, Flores, Cyprus, Crete etc.), and from the coasts they ventured inland along the water-courses. The rich aquatic foods (+ poly-unsaturated fatty acids such as DHA) best explain the drastic brain enlargement we see in Homo. OTOH, naledi still had small brains, they didn’t deliberately bury their dead, but when they died in the swamp, their bodies sank in the oxygen-poor mud & fossilized, and after 100,000s of years, the underground eroded away into a cave-system. Homo or Australopithecus naledi were no direct human ancestors, there was no deliberate burial, no savanna running & no more tool-making than what we see in chimps, but a simple biological explation: naledi were primitive-looking hominids who collected (parttime) shallow aquatic foods in forest swamps & wetlands (google e.g. aquarboreal).


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