New findings of a species that existed at the same time as the evolution of the modern human are challenging the exclusivity of ‘intelligence’ rendered to Homo sapiens.
History continues to surprise us with new discoveries adding more knowledge to the understanding of human existence on this planet. There is already so much academia and research to tell us about the human species, but a new addition to the plethora of information is a recent finding that throws light on an extinct human species and its brain. Archaeologists have found remains of a primitive human species called Homo naledi in the Rising Star Cave system in South Africa.
The evidence of Homo naledi is still under analysis but what was observed was a chimpanzee-like skull, said to have used fires to cook food and also guide its way in dark caves. This intelligence from a primitive human species is astonishing because the size of its brain is one-third of ours. Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and a National Geographic explorer, shared with NewScientist, “We have massive evidence. It’s everywhere. Huge lumps of charcoal, thousands of burned bones, giant hearths and baked clay.” Although the claims are debatable and controversial, upon further studies this could be a game changer for the understanding of complex human behavior being credited only to large-brained species like Neanderthals and humans.
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The new human-like species H. naledi was discovered in 2013 by two cavers in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa. They entered an unchartered chamber where the ground was covered with thousands of fossil bones. However, it was not till 2015 that it was confirmed as belonging to a new species. According to ABC, scientists have also studied that these species from 335,000 to 236,000 years ago practiced the custom of burying and marking the dead and it is surprising to know that these are the first non-human species in known history to follow this custom.
This was further confirmed in July 2022 after Lee Berger not only came across the skeletal remains of Homo naledi but also found carvings on walls that marked the dead who rested there. Berger shared that the carvings and marking included triangles, squares and also a sign that resembled a “hashtag”, but the meaning behind those still remains a question mark.
There is ongoing research to determine whether the Homo naledi and Homo sapiens ever associated with one another and efforts are underway on the molecular biology of the remains to conclude similarities to humans. These findings have shaken the pedestal on which humans and their intelligence resided. Now, it is debatable whether humans really are exceptional because of the size of their brains.
Berger said that the brains of Homo naledi are the size of a chimpanzee and yet the evidence of their behavior and rituals removes that exclusivity of intelligence credited to humans. This discovery has led to many questions about a species that existed at the same time that the modern human was evolving and what that means for us. As Berger said, “Suddenly we went from having just these wonderful anatomy lessons of a species to an entire culture” and it remains to be seen what’s next for the Homo naledi and the Homo sapiens.