JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CBSDC) – There may be a new branch on the human family tree.
“My discovery turns science on its head,” renowned American paleoanthropologist Lee Berger told CBS News.
Berger’s team is presenting fossils that were recently discovered in remote caves in South Africa.
The discovery raises the possibility that another human-like species once walked the Earth.
“It’s got a tiny head and ape-like body, but arms and legs that are very human-like, something completely unexpected and we found it in incredible abundance,” explained Berger.
He is calling his discovery Homo naledi. Homo is the genus for all human species. Naledi is from the word for “star” in the local Sotho language.
While Homo naledi is not human, it is likely an early ancestor of the species that would become Homo sapien, says Berger.
He believes the remains are between 2.5 million to 2.8 million years old.
Berger says the creature walked upright and may have practiced something that is uniquely human, it buried the dead.
He says the 15 individuals his team have identified appear to have been deliberately placed in the underground chamber after they died.
Fellow paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood has been following the discovery with a critical eye.
“I’m respectful of the material they found and I’m respectful of the efforts they made to recover it, but I’m extremely skeptical about the interpretation of them,” he told CBS News.
But Berger is confident his findings will hold up, and add another chapter to the long history of human evolution.