Saturday, 12 September 2015

Observations on the cave where Homo neladi remains have ben found

The web has been buzzing with the reports of a major new discovery in South Africa and I was delighted to find that the supporting papers are available:

Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

When I was studying for a Ph.D. at Exeter University (in Chemistry) I also did a lot of work on the cave deposits in the Devon caves (still not published) and as a result I was very interested to find out details of the Dinaledi Chamber where the human bones were found. In geological terms the general form of the chamber, and the nature of the mineral deposits in make perfect sense, and it is clear that there have been changes in the water table which have left the chamber flooded at some times, and the mechanism for the bones being rearranged by mud slumping is one I am familiar with. The theory that the bodies were intact and entered the chamber by falling down the entrance shaft seems reasonable.  I find it harder to understand how early man could have found the hole in its position in the dark zone of the cave but the Dragon's Back Chamber seems to have passages going straight back towards the entrance, and as the cave contains blocks fallen from the roof, and calcite flowstone, whether a little light might have entered the Dragon's Back Chamber.


  1. I have been involved in discussions as to whether the original way into the cave was easier and subsequently become blocked by roof falls. See comments to

  2. For a bit of light entertainment I am currently doing a FutureLearn course on Journalism and one of the exercises was to write a 300 word feature on a subject of choice and my submission was:

    At least 15 Nalidi bodies have been found at the bottom of a narrow shaft. Who were they? Who put them there? When did they die?
    Questions like these are flying round the internet and no one seems to know the answers. The remains are the bones of early humans (called Nalidi) who have lived perhaps a million years ago. They were found in 2013 deep inside the Rising Star Cave in South Africa.
    An examination of the bones by Professor Berger shows that the Nalidi had hands like modern humans and small brains like the more ape-like Australopithecus. Dating is difficult but it can be shown that the bodies were not carried into the cave by animals like hyenas or lions. There are also no stone tools, or other human-made artefacts in the shaft and there were no signs of wounds on the bones to suggest how they died.
    One thing is clear. The Nalidi could not have fallen down the shaft by accident. It must have been some kind of Nalili cemetery. Someone must have carried the bodies many yards into the cave, dragging them through tight passages, to get to the top of the shaft. Most of the journey would have been complete darkness – so whoever did it would need lights.
    But a million years ago humans had not yet invented fire, much less a portable fire that could be used as a light in a cave. It would be another 900 thousand years before humans started burying their dead. And surely the small-brained Nalidi could not have been clever enough to have done it.
    Or could they? Much more research needs to be done on the remains – and searches will be carried out to find other Nalidi remains from other locations. Whatever happens our current ideas about human evolution will have to change in the light of this important discovery.