The human phylogenetic graph gets curiouser and curiouser

While most of my readers were sleeping, Lee Berger in South Africa was giving a press conferences on new Homo naledi related results. Three papers are in elife. It’s open access, so read yourself. The major result is that the fossils have been dated to a 236,000 to 335,000 years ago.

If you aren’t a paleontologist, Homo naledi and Pleistocene hominin evolution in subequatorial Africa:

New discoveries and dating of fossil remains from the Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa, have strong implications for our understanding of Pleistocene human evolution in Africa. Direct dating of Homo naledi fossils from the Dinaledi Chamber (Berger et al., 2015) shows that they were deposited between about 236 ka and 335 ka (Dirks et al., 2017), placing H. naledi in the later Middle Pleistocene. Hawks and colleagues (Hawks et al., 2017) report the discovery of a second chamber within the Rising Star system (Dirks et al., 2015) that contains H. naledi remains. Previously, only large-brained modern humans or their close relatives had been demonstrated to exist at this late time in Africa, but the fossil evidence for any hominins in subequatorial Africa was very sparse. It is now evident that a diversity of hominin lineages existed in this region, with some divergent lineages contributing DNA to living humans and at least H. naledi representing a survivor from the earliest stages of diversification within Homo. The existence of a diverse array of hominins in subequatorial comports with our present knowledge of diversity across other savanna-adapted species, as well as with palaeoclimate and paleoenvironmental data. H. naledi casts the fossil and archaeological records into a new light, as we cannot exclude that this lineage was responsible for the production of Acheulean or Middle Stone Age tool industries.

In relation to the DNA part, we don’t have ancient genomes except for the Ethiopian Holocene one. They couldn’t get DNA out of naledi. But we do have inferences made from modern populations. Here is the most recent paper cited, Model-based analyses of whole-genome data reveal a complex evolutionary history involving archaic introgression in Central African Pygmies.

3 thoughts on “The human phylogenetic graph gets curiouser and curiouser

  1. The more recent dates are very exciting; they must be able to get at least some mtDNA from one of these bones, or the nearby sediment.

    And the multiple locations of the bones in the cave system really boosts the hypothesis that they were placed there with intent.

  2. Am I right in thinking the way homo naledi is being described in similar terms to homo floresiensis? Any thought that they may be related?

    Also, Razib, I think this is a better case than the introgression into Pygmies still for something naledi-like. (The class 3 sequences)

    Not saying that the Pygmies couldn’t also have received input from something like that, but Hiseh et al doesn’t try to date the split between AMH and the introgressing humans I don’t think, so we just don’t know.

  3. That “burial” stuff is out there. There’s no evidence for it. No burial artifacts, etc.

    I can imagine that these guys were a nuisance to our ancestors. I think it’s more likely that the cave was a last resort refuge for the last remaining homo naledi and they died there. Perhaps our ancestors blocked off the entrances or perhaps stuffed the entrances with wood and lit it up.

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