As the 2010’s come to a close, we reflect back on the last ten years. All over the world in every discipline new and important discoveries have been made. We as a collective race have leaped forward in some ways and fallen behind in others. One area in which we have made great strides of progress is that of Anthropology. Specifically in this case, Biological or Paleoanthropological Anthropology. There have been so many important discoveries in the last decade, filling in missing holes, creating new branches and streams and the like. We thought we knew alot but what we learned has only shown us that there is so much more out there to explore.
Today we will be going over what I think is the most significant discovery of the field in the last decade. While this was a tough decision, and there are many that were tied for final place, the chosen event that we are going to be discussing today is just too perfect and fascinating to not be the greatest discovery of the decade. So lets get talking about Homo naledi.
Let’s start with the facts of the discovery and then go into my opinions (and others) on why its so important.
H. naledi first discovered in South Africa in 2013 by Prof. Lee Berger and his team in the Rising Star Cave System outside of Johannesburg is a first of its kind for many reasons. This discovery was unlike any other that we had made before, and the way in which it was handled changed the field forever.
Dating to about 250,000 years ago, these skeletons were unlike anything we had seen before.
Here is the full story:
So now we have this new species of human ancestor. Not only that, we have them in a range and number never seen before in the field. In addition to that we have the unique disposition of the bodies. Buried. Laid down with care. Not just washed into the cave.
A creature with such a mosaic of features could find its stem at the start of the Homo lineage, and yet we find them so late in the fossil record. Were they around the entire time? We may never know.
But how amazing could that be, that a creature so primitive could be observing a concept that is so advanced. Burial is something only observed in modern humans, and our closest relatives the Neanderthals, all of which were around as late as forty thousand years ago, having burial by non advanced species 250,000 years ago is just astonishing, it is nothing we felt we would observe.
Finding an animal in such quantity, buried in a cave, with no other animal remains present, or signs of flooding or other entrances, H. Naledi seems to be the earliest candidate for ritualized burial. This changes everything that we know of and think about human culture and evolution. Along with that, we have the fact that every age group is represented and well.
Fifteen individuals were discovered, as of the writing of this article, (more could be found any day), finds like this are near unprecedented. Nothing since the First Family has been found like this. Each individual opens up a window into the past to show us all that we can glean from these ancient treasures.
So why is all of this so important? Well, first of all finding a new hominid is always a critical moment for anthropology, finding one in such a remote, and desolate place is extremely rare, not even considering the fact that there were over fifteen individuals found that could have been buried by their relatives. This is just all so unprecedented.
To top it all off, how all of this information was divulged, shared and explored by the scientific community was something new. The discoverer, Lee Berger is a strong believer in open education. No more anthropologists finding fossils to keep them hidden for twenty years while they study them and no one else. Mr. Berger is about sharing that information from the get go to cast the widest web and bring in the most opinions expert or otherwise.
This new method of education in the field is something that has been a long time coming but took a great push to finally roll out. It is thanks to these discoveries that the future is laid out for the next discovery of a hominid fossil.
There you have it! Brief and to the point. There is alot more to this story but we can save that for another time. The discovery of Homo naledi is the most important in the field of paleoanthropology of the decade because of how rare, unusual, and important the find was.
What do you think was the most important discovery of the 2010’s?