AFRICANGLOBE – Wits University researchers, led by Professor Lee Berger, yesterday unveiled Homo naledi – the latest addition to the human family tree – but skeptics including politician and academic Dr. Mathole Motshekga, dismissed the discovery as insignificant.
Standing at about 1.45m Homo naledi are taller than Australopithecus, an extinct hominid species found in southern Africa, although both their pelvises are flatter than humans. The scientists who discovered the world’s newest addition to the genus Homo, said Homo naledi doesn’t easily fit into any slot on the evolutionary scale. Speaking after the unveiling, Motshekga, who is also the former ANC chief whip, claimed the findings were a crude attempt to link the ancestry of Black people to baboons.
Homo naledi is just a “baboon”, Motshekga, told Talk Radio 702 in an interview. Professor Tim White, a palaeo-scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, was quoted by the Mail&Guardian Online as saying the Rising Star team’s conclusions were “speculation”. The area excavated in the chamber is “a test pit, really, measuring only 80 x 80 x 20-25cm. Most of the bones are still buried in the cave”. The report said international palaeoscientists were mostly concerned that there was “no date attached”.
The University of Zurich’s Christoph Zollikofer said: “If there is not a serious attempt to date the whole site, it is difficult to draw any conclusions. “It might be an early Homo [species] … but a lot of the implications depend on what we think about how old it is.”
Asked why the fossils had not been dated, Berger said: “We didn’t feel it was ethical to destroy hominin material until it had been described, and dating the specimen would mean the destruction of the material.”
Chris Stringer of the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum in England said in an insight paper on the discovery the intentional disposal of the dead bodies was “surprisingly complex behaviourfor a creature with a brain no bigger than that of H. habilis or a gorilla”.
Richard Leakey, who came to Johannesburg to see the fossils, commented: “There has to be another entrance. Lee just hasn’t found it yet.”
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