An ancient species of human with a brain no larger than an orange may have possessed intelligence to rival that of our own species. Despite their size, the brains of Homo naledi have many of the sophisticated features found in modern humans.
From the outset, one of the scientists behind the discovery, Dr Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, insisted there was more to this new species than its diminutive 5-foot stature suggested.
“We argued that H. naledi was exhibiting some very complex behaviours,” he told The Independent. “We said it had a tool-making hand – or at least a potentially tool-making hand – we pointed out it had small feet and we rather controversially said the site may be a deliberate body disposal site.”
To determine whether there was more going on in the heads of these ancient humans than met the eye, Dr Berger enlisted the help of colleagues who could help him piece together skull fragments and create digital reconstructions of their skull interiors.
[S]cans of the H. naledi revealed complexity in many areas – including regions linked with emotion and a large frontal lobe associated with language.
“It’s too soon to speculate about language or communication in H. naledi,” said co-author Dr Shawn Hurst of Indiana University. “But today human language relies upon this brain region.”
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