A University of Kentucky professor was part of the team that discovered what is thought to be a new species of human ancestor.
Andrew Deane, UK paleoanthropologist and associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology, served as a member of the Rising Star Expedition, a group of international scientists who described more than 1,500 fossils exhumed from a cavern in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site outside Johannesburg, South Africa, according to the university.
Lee Berger, research professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, led the expeditions that recovered the fossils called Homo naledi.
Deane was one of 30 experts invited by Berger to help examine the fossils for six months. Deane focused on the hand and the foot.
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"It's really remarkable and really a big privilege to be involved in something this unique, not only because the find itself is so overwhelming, its scope and the amount of material and representation that we have, but also because this is a fairly unique species," Deane said. "We're not yet clear 100 percent on where this thing fits in the human family tree. There are certainly a lot of questions that remain unanswered that we're still working on, but it certainly adds another member to our family."
The hand and foot of the Homo naledi resemble those of modern-day humans. But they are also primitive, Deane said. The fingers and toes are much longer and curved, but the rest of the hand and foot appear to mirror those of modern humans. The wrists appear to be stable and suited for making tools.
The skull, shoulders and chest of the Homo naledi also appear to have characteristics both primitive and modern, Deane said.
"The significance of this find, in a addition to the volume of material, is that it adds yet more evidence to suggest that human evolution is a much more diverse thing than what we previously thought," Deane said.