Homo naledi a mix of ape and human

2015-10-07 17:01

Johannesburg – Homo naledi’s hands and feet had features of both apes and modern humans, according to new research.

Its wrist, thumb, and palm were similar to Neanderthals and modern humans.

The fingers however were "long and remarkably curved" like those of existing apes, according to a paper titled The hand of Homo naledi, published in the journal Nature Communications on Monday.

This meant it was likely able to climb trees, but also capable of precise movements, like those used in making tools.

Further evidence of Homo naledi's ability to climb was found in the primitive features of its upper limbs and thorax.

A total of 150 hand bones, from at least six adults and two young individuals, were found in the Rising Star cave system’s Dinaledi chamber, outside Johannesburg, two years ago.

The right hand of Homo naledi. (Supplied, Nature Communications)

Similarly, its foot function was "broadly similar" to that of modern humans, but still had certain ape-like features.

A well-preserved adult’s right foot and nearly all other foot bones were found in the cave. They were likely from two adults and two youngsters.

Analysis of Homo naledi’s big toe put it into the category of homo sapiens, and outside that of existing great apes, according to a paper entitled The foot of Homo naledi, published in the same journal.

Those toe bones closest to the foot itself were more curved than those found in modern humans, and were more like those found in apes like gorillas and gibbons.

This could indicate Homo naledi had better grasping abilities with its feet when compared with modern humans.

The Homo naledi fossil find was announced in September. Parts of 15 individuals were found in a chamber about 90m from the cave entrance, and only accessible through a narrow chute. This suggested that Homo Naledi disposed of its dead.

The fossils had not yet been dated.

Professor Lee Berger, of the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University, described it as a new species of human ancestor, and "practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage".

A digital reconstruction of the foot of Homo naledi. (Supplied, Nature Communications)

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  homo naledi

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