The discovery of the Homo naledi child skull Leti
In November 2021, researchers announced the discovery of the first partial skull of a Homo naledi child, found in a remote and narrow passage of the Rising Star cave system in South Africa. The child, nicknamed Leti, was about 4 to 6 years old when he or she died, about 250,000 years ago. Leti belonged to an ancient human relative that shared some features with modern humans, such as a curved spine, but also had some primitive traits, such as long fingers and a flared pelvis.
The discovery of Leti has important implications for our understanding of human evolution and behavior. It suggests that Homo naledi practiced some form of ritual burial, by placing their dead deep in the dark caves. It also reveals more about the growth and development of Homo naledi children, and how they compared to other human ancestors and modern humans.
One of the most striking features of Leti’s skull is its shape. It has a flat forehead, large eye sockets, and a prominent brow ridge. These are typical characteristics of early Homo species, such as Homo erectus and Homo habilis. However, Leti also has a relatively small face and teeth, which are more similar to those of later Homo species, such as Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis. This suggests that Homo naledi had a mosaic of features that evolved at different rates and times.
Leti’s skull also shows signs of damage and erosion, which may indicate that it was exposed to water or scavengers before being buried by sediment. The researchers have not found any other bones of Leti or any other Homo naledi individuals in the same location. However, that is not saying much since the location is so absolutely hard to get to, that excavations are on going. This raises questions about how Leti’s skull ended up in such a difficult-to-reach place, and whether it was intentionally placed there by other members of her species.
The discovery of Leti adds to the growing evidence that human evolution was not a simple linear process, but a complex and diverse one. It also challenges our assumptions about what makes us human, and how we relate to our ancient relatives.