Big Picture Science – Going All To Species: John Hawks / Homo Naledi

by Gary Niederhoff on November 1, 2015

Homo_naledi_skeletal_specimens
Going All To Species – Homo Naledi
click to listen (TRT 13:31)

Part 3 of Going All To Species, featuring John Hawks, anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, discussing the study of the fossils found in Rising Star cave.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar marc verhaegen November 6, 2015 at 3:24 pm

This is a great discovery and fantastic excavation, but what does this mean for human evolution?
Professor Berger’s interpretations (deliberate burial, human ancestors, distance running, tool making) are anthropocentric: from a comparative viewpoint, Homo or Australopithecus naledi is no mystery (in fact predicted, e.g. Trends Ecol Evol 17, 212, 2002, google “aquarboreal”): apparently, naledi were bonobo-like forest-swamp or wetland waders who – like bonobos or lowland gorillas but much more frequently – fed on aquatic herbaceous vegetation (AHV) such as papyrus sedges, waterlilies etc., google “bonobo wading”. They fossilised in stagnant water (mud-stone). The curved hand-bones suggest frequent vertical climbing in the branches above the swamps. The long thumbs were not for tool making, but for collecting floating AHV and for surface-swimming. The broad pelvises (iliac flaring and long femoral necks) were for sideward movements of the legs (femoral abduction): for climbing or swimming, not for running. The flat plantigrade humanlike feet are more flamingo- (flat feet) than ostrich-like (high feet): for wading or swimming, not for running. The small front teeth and large cheekteeth can be expected with a wetland diet of AHV and possibly hard-shelled invertebrates (HSI).
Lowland gorillas often wade on two legs in forest swamps for sedges, frogbit etc., but naledi apparently exploited this special niche habitually: no wonder there were no other macro-fauna near the naledi fossils, google “gorilla bai” illustrations. It was no deliberate burial (they had ape-sized brains), but a natural process: when they died, their bodies sank into the mud, and the mudstone seems to have slided side- and downwards with a velocity of a few centimetres every thousand years. The remarkably complete skeletons show that when they died they got almost immediately covered by (oxygen-poor) mud.
The more humanlike feet are no argument for placing naledi within Homo: S.Coon already noticed that prenatal chimps have more humanlike feet with longer and more adducted big toe, which later become chimp-like, and A.Schultz noticed that female lowland gorillas kept these into adulthood. AFAICS, naledi – in spite of some primitive-hominid Homo-like features in hands, feet and dentition – was remarkably bonobo-like in nearly all the rest of its anatomy, and IMO more likely a close relative of bonobos or common chimps than of humans, google “researchGate marc verhaegen”.

avatar Anonymous October 27, 2017 at 3:58 pm

It’s becoming more & more clear that naledi might have been a fossil relative of chimps & bonobos, who spent a lot of time in forest swamps, google e.g. Pan naledi 2017.

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