Now, as researchers, the really controversial debates get thrown up when you find *THE FIRST* example of a certain *special* trait. Even though, really, all new sites should be as valuable as each other for studying human evolution, we do really get excited about finding the first of something. Whether it’s pushing back the first hominins associated with tools or disputing the first sign of bipedalism in the skeleton, people like to benchmark these things. However, obviously these things change with new research!
In September, a group of researchers near Johannesburg, found not only a new species of Homo, named Homo naledi (which is big news in human evolutionary studies) but the positioning and location of the specimens indicate an initial suggestion of intentional burial. Not only this, but they found a LOT of this species. This is very rare, and very useful. In terms of understanding development in these hominins, sex differences and really studying anything statistically, you need sample sizes of 100 and above and more than that, the sample has to be diverse. Rising Star Cave could provide just this for Berger and his researchers.
Featured in all the key science journals as well as national newspapers, this is a story to hit the history (science history) books. The story will heat up again in the near future, when Berger and co release a paper, hopefully including dating, which should be possible, if the specimens are as well preserved as reported.
Thus far the team have collected 1,500 bone specimens so far, with even more finds likely on the horizon. However, as EVER in this field of research, a claim for a new species must be justified, and other claims have been made linking the find to H. erectus. However, regardless of species dispute, if intentional burial can be confirmed at this location, this site will become one of the most important focuses of human evolutionary study today. So as this story unravels, this is the site to watch out for!
At any rate, this is good news, because as Charlie D (Charles Darwin for the less habitual biologists out there), said long ago, (and to excuse a paraphrase) human evolutionary study has one big problem and that is all the stuff we have yet to find. So as another portion of dust is swept off the human evolutionary windscreen, another piece of the hominin road comes into view.
N.B. facts from Guardian article.