Schematic of the Rising Star cave system. Picture: Marina Elliott/Wits University
de Ruiter says that at least 15 individual skeletons appear to have been intentionally placed in the cave, ranging in age from infants to elderly adults. It likely represents some form of systematic disposal of the dead, but from there the mystery grows deeper.
“We do not know how they died, nor exactly how old the remains are,” he adds. “We suspect there are many more skeletons down there, maybe even hundreds, and the cave has different levels where many more skeletons might be found.”
The body size of the skeletons is similar to that of a small-bodied human, de Ruiter notes, except that the skulls are much smaller than humans. Although their hands and feet are human-like, their trunk, shoulders and hips are quite primitive in size and shape, “and this unique combination of characteristics is unlike any previously known human relatives. We gave them the named Homo naledi, which means ‘star’ after the cave, which is known as the Rising Star cave,” de Ruiter adds.
de Ruiter says the cave system could reveal many more secrets because it has numerous levels and chambers that have yet to be explored.
The project was funded by the National Geographic Society, the National Research Foundation of South Africa, the Gauteng Provincial Government, and the Texas A&M College of Liberal Arts Seed Grant Program.
Media contact: Darryl de Ruiter at (979) 458-5986 or email@example.com or Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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