Human-Like Species Could Have Lived On Earth Along With Homo Sapiens

10 May 2017, 12:46 pm EDT By Andrew Norman Tech Times
Scientists dated the Homo naledi bones to be around 236,000 to 335,000 years old. The date surprised many researchers who previously believed the species to have been much older.  ( John Hawks | University of Wisconsin-Madison )

Back in 2013, scientists discovered the remains of an ancient human relative on an expedition to the Rising Star Cave in South Africa's Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. This new species was named Homo naledi, but researchers were unable to determine the period to which these human-like creatures belonged.

Since the samples were so ancient, DNA recovery turned out to be impossible and researchers relied on different means to ascertain how old the Homo naledi bones were. They tried dating the sediments in which the bones were discovered and this finally presented them with an estimate.

However, scientists were shocked when testing revealed that the recovered Homo naledi bones were just 236,000 to 335,000 years old. This indicates that the Homo naledi lived alongside the earliest Homo sapiens, or modern humans, in Africa.

Homo Naledi Co-Existed With Homo Sapiens

If what researchers claim is true, then the Homo naledi would join Neanderthals, Homo floresiensis, and Denisovans to become the fourth known hominin to have existed alongside modern-day humans.

A new chamber aside from the one discovered previously has also been unearthed. Scientists claim that within this chamber they have discovered the remains of at least three new Homo naledi specimens, including younger and adult subjects. It was also revealed that one of the uncovered skulls was brilliantly preserved.

This second discovery, which was located very near to the first, suggested that members of the Homo naledi species were storing their dead in the particular location. Scientists believe that this is a sign of a highly evolved intelligence similar to the Homo sapiens.

"This likely adds weight to the hypothesis that Homo naledi was using dark, remote places to cache its dead. What are the odds of a second, almost identical occurrence happening by chance?" John Hawks, study associate and professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, remarked.

How The Dating Was Done

Researchers could not rely on DNA to tell them the dates of the discovered remains as they were far too old for gene dating. So, instead, scientists came up with the idea of dating the sediments inside which the remains were found buried.

The researchers employed a method known as Uranium-Thorium dating. They tested the flowstones in the sediments to determine how it related to the overall geological timescale of the region. Uranium series or U-series dating was performed on the teeth of the specimen. However, it was the final electron spin resonance dating or ESR, which revealed the exact age of the bones.

"Of course we were surprised at the young age, but as we realised that all the geological formations in the chamber were young, the U-series and ESR results were perhaps less of a surprise in the end," Professor Eric Roberts from James Cook University and Wits shared.

Professor Hawk stated that the most interesting thing about the Homo naledi was that even though its brain size was around a third of the Homo sapiens, the characteristics and cultural aspects the species followed resemble those of modern humans.

Three papers have been published regarding the discoveries in the journal eLife.

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