NOV 10, 2021 11:00 AM PST

Meet Leti, a fossilized Homo naledi child skeleton

On November 4th, the discovery of “Leti,” a child fossil likely belonging to the extinct species of Homo naledi was announced. Leti, named after the Setswana word “letimela” meaning “the lost one,” was a child, likely aged between 4 and 6 years old at the time of their death. Their fossilized remains include 28 skull fragments and six teeth, which were reconstructed by a team of experts led by Professor Lee Berger from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Homo naledi is a relatively new species to paleoanthropologists; the first remains were discovered in 2013 and announced in 2015. The fossils were discovered in the Dinaledi Chamber in the Rising Star Cave system in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. The discovery of these fossils was remarkable for several reasons, though the biggest was the remote location of the fossils 98 feet underground. The team who recovered the fossils came to be known as the Underground Astronauts, due to the extremely tight spaces they needed to crawl through to access the fossil chamber. The so-called Underground Astronauts ultimately recovered 1550 specimens, which were brought to a team of paleoanthropologists working outside the cave who determined that at least 15 individuals were represented in the fossils.

The suite of traits identified led researchers to classify these fossils as a new species called Homo naledi, named after the Sotho word for “star.” The H. naledi skull size suggests that their brain anatomy may have been similar to other Homo species and thus have an equitable cognitive complexity. Additionally, while they were adapted to climbing in trees, they also likely walked on two legs.

Since 2013, excavations have continued in the Rising Star Cave system and subsequent announcements of new fossils have been made. This latest discovery, however, is particularly unique because the fossil was a child. Fossils belonging to infants and children are especially rare in the paleoanthropological record due to the particularly fragile nature of their bones, and therefore not much is known about the growth and development of human ancestors. From the reconstructed skull, researchers estimate that Leti’s brain was 90-95% the size of an adult brain. While many questions about Leti remain—such as the sex of the child and how their remains came to be in the cave—the fossils will undoubtedly help us to better understand the evolution of human growth and development.

 

Sources: The University of Witwatersrand news, eLife (Berger et al., 2015), eLife (Dirks et al., 2017), The Atlantic,  The Guardian, eLife (Hawks et al., 2017)

 

 

 

PhD, Biological Anthropology
Brittany has a PhD in Biological Anthropology and is currently a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology at North Carolina State University. She studies human and primate evolution using 3D scanning technology and statistical analysis to answer questions about where we come from, and to whom we're related. She is also a freelance science writer, focusing on evolutionary biology and human health and medicine,
You May Also Like
FEB 19, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
54,000-Year-Old Tooth Challenges Our Understanding of How Humans and Neanderthals Interacted
FEB 19, 2022
54,000-Year-Old Tooth Challenges Our Understanding of How Humans and Neanderthals Interacted
In 2012 Archaeologists working in caves in the South of France discovered something incredible. A single tooth, in a lay ...
FEB 28, 2022
Plants & Animals
Fecal Microbiota Transplant Promising for Peanut Allergy Patients
FEB 28, 2022
Fecal Microbiota Transplant Promising for Peanut Allergy Patients
Peanut allergies can be fatal, leading to severe allergic reactions that can restrict breathing and digestive problems, ...
MAR 20, 2022
Plants & Animals
For Fruit Flies, Evolution is Anything but a Gradual Process
MAR 20, 2022
For Fruit Flies, Evolution is Anything but a Gradual Process
It’s generally believed that evolution is a gradual process that takes place over significant periods of time.&nbs ...
APR 10, 2022
Microbiology
"Raised Without Antibiotics" Labels Found to be Misleading
APR 10, 2022
"Raised Without Antibiotics" Labels Found to be Misleading
There is growing concern about whether our antibiotics can keep pace with the threats posed by new and emerging bacteria ...
APR 18, 2022
Plants & Animals
Some Fish Species Can Count
APR 18, 2022
Some Fish Species Can Count
If someone asked you if fish could count, your response would probably be… probably not? Counting seems like an a ...
MAY 23, 2022
Plants & Animals
Dolphins Use Coral to Treat Skin Conditions
MAY 23, 2022
Dolphins Use Coral to Treat Skin Conditions
According to a new research study published in iScience, specific species of dolphins can experience skin irritation or ...
Loading Comments...