Context: Recently, palaeontologists in South Africa said they have found the oldest known burial site in the world, containing remains of a small-brained distant relative of humans previously thought incapable of complex behaviour. About the discovery:
- Researchers said they discovered several specimens of Homo naledi — a tree-climbing, Stone Age hominid — buried about 30 metres (100 feet) underground in a cave system within the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO world heritage site near Johannesburg.
- These are the most ancient interments yet recorded in the hominin record, earlier than evidence of Homo sapiens interments by at least 100,000 years.
- The oldest burials previously unearthed, found in the Middle East and Africa, contained the remains of Homo sapiens
- The findings challenge the current understanding of human evolution, as it is normally held that the development of bigger brains allowed for the performing of complex, “meaning-making” activities such as burying the dead.
- It is a primitive species at the crossroads between apes and modern humans.
- It had brains about the size of oranges i.e. 450 to 600 cubic centimetres. – just one-third of that of modern humans and stood about 1.5 metres (five feet) tall.
- It had curved fingers and toes, tool-wielding hands and feet made for walking.
- Their shoulders were built for climbing and their teeth were shaped like that of older primates.
- Homo naledi is named after the “Rising Star” cave system where the first bones were found in 2013.
- Homo naledi was capable of complex emotional and cognitive behaviour.