Paleontological Note on Homo naledi

K P Wise


The recently described H. naledi is based on exceptional material (hundreds of well-preserved specimens from a single, very small provenance, representing nearly every bone in the human body and at least fifteen different individuals from both genders and a wide range of ages).  Distributed between two sedimentary units separated by flowstone, the bodies represent a death assemblage, deposited over at least months of time.  The lack of other vertebrate remains, perimortem trauma, vertebrate predation or scavenging, human cutting or burning, combined with the difficulty of accessing the burial site, argue against the H. naledi being killed or brought in either by non-biological processes or by predators or scavengers.  The best explanation for how the bodies got there is that humans, using artificial light, carried the bodies along challenging cave passage to deliberately deposit them there.  Small CVs, combined with the uniformity of variable and unusual morphological characters suggest that all the H. naledi were probably from one family.  The naledi are probably a family unit recently dispersed from Babel, who used this isolated cave passage as a burial chamber for the duration of their residence in the region.  The mosaic nature of characters exhibited by the naledi are consistent with fossil human morphologies being non-adaptive morphologies expressed from latent genetic material and fixed by genetic drift in small populations dispersing from Babel.

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