The Lesedi Chamber is about 109 yards from the Dinaledi Chamber, where at least 15 individuals of various ages were found. Both chambers are difficult to access.
“I have never been inside either of the chambers, and never will be,” co-author John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Wits University said in a statement. “In fact, I watched Lee Berger being stuck for almost an hour, trying to get out of the narrow underground squeeze of the Lesedi Chamber.”
Berger eventually had to be extricated using ropes tied to his wrists.
The remoteness and distance between the cave chambers suggests to the researchers that H. naledi was caching its dead, and likely was controlling fire to see within the deep, dark cave. No tools directly associated with this species of human have been found yet, though.
Chris Stringer, a merit researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, is a leading expert on early human origins. He expressed amazement over the conclusion that H. naledi lived around 300,000 years ago.
“This is astonishingly young for a species that still displays primitive characteristics found in fossils about 2 million years old, such as the small brain size, curved fingers, and form of the shoulder, trunk, and hip joint,” Stringer said. “Yet the wrist, hands, legs and feet look more like those of Neanderthals and modern humans, and the teeth are relatively small and simple, and set in lightly built jawbones.”
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He believes that H. naledi could be a “relic species, retaining many primitive traits from a much earlier time.” Homo floresiensis, aka the Hobbit Human that lived until relatively recently, came to his mind. The diminutive Hobbits are thought to have lived when several other species of humans were in Europe and Asia. H. floresiensis lived on the island of Flores, however, so isolation at that location could help to explain how it remained a distinct species of human.
H. naledi does not appear to have been isolated, so Stringer posed the compelling question: “How did a comparably strange and small-brained species linger on in southern Africa, seemingly alongside more ‘advanced’ humans?”