The skull of a child suspected to have died 250 000 years ago has recently been discovered in the Rising Star Cave system just outside of the Cradle of Human Kind, Johannesburg.
While juvenile fossil discoveries quite literally aren’t anything new, the findings of a very young member of the Homo naledi species are.
The ‘Underground Astronauts’, or the team of scientists and excavators who led the successful find, have expressed that this child is indeed a Homo naledi juvenile, estimated to have been between 4-6 years old upon passing.
‘Who was Homo Naledi again?’ the curious reader might ponder. Homo naledi is a species of archaic humans discovered in 2013-2014 as Human Origins confirms. Essentially, they were another branch in the family tree of humans previously unknown.
The recent discovery of the juvenile skull, dubbed “Letimela” is being widely talked about because of how Letimela, or “the lost one,” in Setswana, appears to have been buried or placed in a hidden part of the cave on purpose. Why this was the case is unknown according to the research team, but it could indicate an understanding of death even thousands of years ago, according to the research team.
As AfricaNews notes in citing Professor Lee Berger, project leader and Director of the Centre for Exploration of the Deep Human Journey at Wits University:
“If this skull was moved from some other location to that point, that truly is a remarkable level of interaction with the dead,” said Professor Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand.
The placement of the skull according to Dr Marina Elliot, a team member who spoke to The Conversation Africa, the remains were recovered from the surface of a “tight narrow passage” within a cave chamber part of the Dinaledi network. Through a short squeeze and into another tiny chamber called Chaos, over some fallen boulders and a drop down into a narrow crawl space, the child’s skull lay for thousands of years.
Picture: Wikus De Wet/ AFP