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Homo naledi: 1,500 Fossils Revolutionize Human Family Tree

Two years after being discovered deep in a South African cave, the 1,500 fossils excavated during the Rising Star Expedition have been identified as belonging to a previously unknown early human relative that National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger and team have named Homo naledi. An account of Homo naledi’s discovery and analysis is the cover story of the October...

A composite skeleton of Homo naledi is surrounded by some of the hundreds of other fossil elements recovered from the Dinaledi Chamber in the Rising Star cave in South Africa in this photo from the October National Geographic magazine. The expedition team was led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand. The find was announced by the University of the Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society and the South African National Research Foundation and published in the journal eLife. (Photo by Robert Clark/National Geographic; Source: Lee Berger, Wits, photographed at Evolutionary Studies Institute)

Two years after being discovered deep in a South African cave, the 1,500 fossils excavated during the Rising Star Expedition have been identified as belonging to a previously unknown early human relative that National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger and team have named Homo
naledi
.

An account of Homo naledi’s discovery and analysis is the cover story of the October National Geographic magazine, and is online now with photos, videos, animations, and graphics.

The finds are described scientifically in two new papers published in the journal eLife.

With at least 15 individuals of all ages and both sexes represented, the find adds an unprecedented amount of information to our understanding of early human evolution in Africa.

Just as striking, the absence of any other animal remains or large debris in the fossil chamber strongly suggests that these creatures intentionally deposited their dead within the cave. Until now, only modern humans and Neanderthals had been known to practice burial.

The NOVA/National Geographic documentary, “Dawn of Humanity,” chronicles the discovery and premieres in the U.S. Sept. 16, 2015, at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT on PBS in the U.S. and is streaming online now.

Join the discussion surrounding this remarkable discovery here and on Twitter using #NalediFossils.

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Andrew Howley
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley. Learn more at andrewjhowley.com.