World

Study: Bone trove deep in South African cave reveals a new human ancestor, raises mysteries

  • This March 2015 photo provided by National Geographic from their October 2015 issue shows a reconstruction of Homo naledi's face by paleoartist John Gurche at his studio in Trumansburg, N.Y. In an announcement made Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, scientists say fossils found deep in a South African cave revealed the new member of the human family tree. (Mark Thiessen/National Geographic via AP) IMAGE MUST INCLUDE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LOGO; CROPPING NOT PERMITTED; MANDATORY CREDIT: "MARK THIESSEN/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC"

    This March 2015 photo provided by National Geographic from their October 2015 issue shows a reconstruction of Homo naledi's face by paleoartist John Gurche at his studio in Trumansburg, N.Y. In an announcement made Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, scientists say fossils found deep in a South African cave revealed the new member of the human family tree. (Mark Thiessen/National Geographic via AP) IMAGE MUST INCLUDE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LOGO; CROPPING NOT PERMITTED; MANDATORY CREDIT: "MARK THIESSEN/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC"  (The Associated Press)

  • This photo provided by National Geographic from their October 2015 issue shows a composite skeleton of Homo naledi surrounded by some of the hundreds of other fossil elements recovered from the Rising Star cave in South Africa, photographed at the Evolutionary Studies Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. In an announcement made Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, scientists say the fossils revealed the new member of the human family tree. The expedition team was led by Lee Berger of the university. (Robert Clark/National Geographic, Lee Berger/University of the Witwatersrand via AP) IMAGE MUST INCLUDE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LOGO; CROPPING NOT PERMITTED; MANDATORY CREDIT: "ROBERT CLARK/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, LEE BERGER/UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND"

    This photo provided by National Geographic from their October 2015 issue shows a composite skeleton of Homo naledi surrounded by some of the hundreds of other fossil elements recovered from the Rising Star cave in South Africa, photographed at the Evolutionary Studies Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. In an announcement made Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, scientists say the fossils revealed the new member of the human family tree. The expedition team was led by Lee Berger of the university. (Robert Clark/National Geographic, Lee Berger/University of the Witwatersrand via AP) IMAGE MUST INCLUDE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LOGO; CROPPING NOT PERMITTED; MANDATORY CREDIT: "ROBERT CLARK/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, LEE BERGER/UNIVERSITY OF THE WITWATERSRAND"  (The Associated Press)

  • South Africa Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, kisses a reconstruction of Homo naledi's face during the announcement made at Maropeng Cradle of Humankind in Magaliesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.  Scientists say they've discovered a new member of the human family tree, revealed by a huge trove of bones in a barely accessible, pitch-dark chamber of a cave in South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

    South Africa Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, kisses a reconstruction of Homo naledi's face during the announcement made at Maropeng Cradle of Humankind in Magaliesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Scientists say they've discovered a new member of the human family tree, revealed by a huge trove of bones in a barely accessible, pitch-dark chamber of a cave in South Africa. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)  (The Associated Press)

Scientists say fossils found deep in a South African cave reveal a new member of the human family tree.

Lee Berger, who led the expedition, told reporters Thursday the creature is named Homo naledi (nah-LEH-dee).

Paleoanthropologist John Hawks said the creature shows a surprising mix of human-like and more primitive characteristics. It may be an early member of the evolutionary group that includes modern people and our closest extinct relatives.

The fossils came from at least 15 individuals. Scientists don't know how old they are, and experts said that makes it hard to assess the significance of the find.

Another mystery is how the bones found their way into the chamber of the cave. One possibility is that the room was repeatedly used to dispose of bodies.