Two years ago, several skeletons belonging to an unknown species of early human lineage were discovered in the Rising Star Cave near Johannesburg, South Africa. Now, anthropologist Lee Berger and his team have presented their findings. The researchers are certain that they have discovered a previously unidentified human species. But this revelation gives rise to many questions. Anthropologist Christoph Zollikofer even says that several insights presented by Berger and his team are flat-out wrong.
Q: Does Homo naledi really belong to the hominin species?
Christoph Zollikofer: That is a typical media question. The term species is not a biological concept. In nature, there is basically no hard-set difference between individuals, groups and species. Instead, transitions are fluent between them. Of course, you can define life forms with two legs as humans to distinguish them from others. But it is questionable to do so if you look at the hand of a fossil that has been found. Hands are for gripping and climbing. Nomenclature works well for headlines, but not much else.
Q: Can it also belong to a previously discovered genus?
CZ: My intuition says it is a primitive Homo erectus. The combination of features is actually well-known. But I’m just speculating, since nobody knows its exact biological age. Assuming that it is two million years old, you could say it is an early Homo erectus, but not a new genus.
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