PICS | 250 000-year-old skull of Homo naledi child found in Joburg cave

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  • Researchers have found remains of a skull and teeth of what is believed to be a Homo naledi child.
  • The remains were found in a remote part of Rising Star Cave in Johannesburg.
  • The child has been named Letimela, which means "the lost one". 

The first partial skull of a Homo naledi child has been found in the remote depths of the Rising Star cave in Johannesburg. 

This was revealed by an international team of researchers, led by project leader and director of the Centre for Exploration of the Deep Human Journey at Wits University, Professor Lee Berger, on Thursday afternoon at the Malapa Museum.

This photograph taken in Johannesburg on November
A full-scale reproduction of the skull of a hominid named Leti, found inside the Rising Star Cave System.

The discovery of parts of the skull and teeth of the child believed to have been aged around four and died almost 250 000 years ago, were found in a remote passage of the cave. This was a few metres away from the original site of discovery of the first Homo naledi remains that were revealed to the world in 2015.

"Homo naledi remains one of the most enigmatic ancient human relatives ever discovered," Berger explained. 

READ | Accountant found Homo naledi while caving

Berger described this scientific finding as an "extraordinary" continuation of work and discovery at the Rising Star cave system.

The remains were discovered in a tight passage that measures only 15cm wide and 80cm long and was located just beyond an area named the "Chaos Chamber".The little child has been named Letimela, meaning "the lost one", because the skull was found alone and no remains of their body had been recovered, leaving scientists with a mystery.

A general view of one of the main entrance of Risi
The main entrance of Rising Star Cave System at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Maropeng.

"Is this the continuation of the behaviour we have seen and hypothesised of Homo naledi?" Berger asked.

"The discovery of a single skull of a child in such a remote location within the cave system adds mystery as to how these many remains came to be in these remote, dark spaces of the Rising Star Cave system," he added.

The question of how Letimela's skull rested alone in the remote location is yet to be answered.

A new species of human relative, Homo Naledia.

Researchers hypothesise that it was likely that other members of the species were involved in the skull reaching such a remote place.

"This is the first partial skull of a child of Homo naledi yet recovered and this begins to give us insight into all stages of life of this remarkable species," Professor Juliet Brophy of Wits and Louisiana State University said.

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