How old is homo naledi

Dawn of Humanity Deep in a South African cave, an astounding discovery reveals clues to what made us human. Premiering how old is homo naledi Thursday, September 10 and airing Wednesday, September 16, 2015.

Located in an almost inaccessible chamber deep in a South African cave, the site required recruiting a special team of experts slender enough to wriggle down a vertical, pitch-dark, seven-inch-wide passage. Most fossil discoveries¬†of human relatives¬†consist of just a handful of bones. Ever since Darwin put forward the idea that we evolved from apes, scientists have wondered about those first creatures that left the ape world and crossed into ours. In the last 50 years, fossil finds have filled in some of the many blanks in the story of our evolution, but the bones of our ancestors are few and far between, allowing only glimpses of how we slowly changed, over millions of years, from ape to human. Now, in South Africa, in caves dangerously deep underground, two new species of hominin, our human ancestors, have been found. There it was, right there, one of the most spectacular early hominins ever discovered, lying on the surface of a cave. It’s just absolutely incredible, the amount of bone that’s coming up.

The first thing that came through my mind was Howard Carter’s anecdote about opening Tutankhamen’s tomb. LEE BERGER: We have found a most remarkable creature and a most unexpected one. So, we need a new kind of language to talk about this. NARRATOR: These bones could finally bring our past into focus. What story will they tell about how we became human? The high plains to the northwest of Johannesburg have been called the Cradle of Humankind. In the 1930s and ’40s, fossil finds here gave us the first important glimpses of our earliest ancestors.

Then, for decades, the discoveries seemed to dry up. It looked like the Cradle of Humankind had little left to offer. NARRATOR: But now, from deep caves in the Cradle, come two new discoveries that could reshape the understanding of our ancient past. I had never seen or dreamed of anything like the richness of this site. There’s a big gap in the fossil record, with only a few little fragments. NARRATOR: The fossil record suggests that in that gap lies the dawn of humanity, the birth of the genus Homo. It’s perhaps the least understood and most important episode in our evolution.

Before, it was the world of Australopithecus, an ape-like creature with a tiny brain. Lucy is the poster child for the Australopiths. She walked upright, but belonged to the world of the apes. The upper part of the body in Australopithecus is, in general, very apish. Go down, look at the pelvis, very human-like. An Australopithecus is, sort of, like a bipedal ape.

Channing Tatum hangs out with ‘Bachelor’ Arie Luyendyk Jr. LEE BERGER: Because it became clear, probably in the 1990s, and moving into the early 21st century that Homo habilis, we really didn’t know what that was. A brain that’s more than a third as small as a modern human’s brain is. That, of course, waits to be seen. How does something that has no lights, no protective equipment like we had get in here?

If you went back in time and saw them walking around the savannah, you would see animals that stood up and walked like we do, but they would’ve been smaller in body size. Their brains wouldn’t have been as big, so their heads would’ve looked smaller. Their jaws and teeth were very large. NARRATOR: The fossil record suggests that somewhere between 2- and 3,000,000 years ago, these ape-like Australopiths evolved into the first recognizably human species: Homo erectus. BRIAN RICHMOND: They have big brains and small faces, adaptations for using tools. Oh, there’s a wild man over here, and, you know, somebody should put some clothes on him. NARRATOR: So what went on in the transition from the ape-like Australopithecus to Homo erectus?

For years, the only species that filled that gap was a creature called Homo habilis. But so little of it has ever been found, the origins of the genus Homo have remained an enigma. The greatest mystery, facing paleoanthropology today is to try to understand how, when, where the transition from Australopithecus to Homo occurred. BRIAN RICHMOND: And what we don’t know is what happened between Australopithecus and early Homo. That’s one of the big mysteries right now we’re trying to solve. NARRATOR: The prize would be to discover fossil remains that could tell us about that mysterious transition.


And now they may have found some. LEE BERGER: There, you can see two foot bones in articulation. NARRATOR: Emerging from ancient caves in South Africa are fossil finds of astonishing richness, and not just fragments but virtually complete skeletons. STEVE CHURCHILL: From the very first block that we had, we had a portion of the mandible, the lower jaw, and we had a collarbone and one of the bones of the forearm. So that was really, really exciting.

NARRATOR: Will these skeletons live up to their promise, offering us a new understanding of the dawn of humanity? In August, 2013, South African Pedro Boshoff was out of work. He had been a soldier, a prospector, an adventurer and even a part-time student of human origins. Now, he wondered if he could earn some money doing what he loves most: fossil hunting. Towards the end of August, I approached Professor Lee Berger, asking if there would be the possibility of a position at faculty with him.



You know, I really need work, and I have the same belief as you that there is more out there. NARRATOR: Lee Berger started exploring the area of South Africa known as the Cradle of Humankind in the early 1990s. After 18 years of searching, he had found only a few isolated fossils. That’s not unusual in the field of paleoanthropology. LEE BERGER: These early human fossils are probably the rarest sought-after objects on Earth. We, in paleoanthropology sit in one of the few fields that probably have more scientists studying objects than there are objects to study.

In fact, the vast majority of people who do what I do will never find a single piece of one of these early humans. And if they do, it’s going to be an isolated tooth. Probably 80 to 90 percent of our record, just little bits of isolated teeth. NARRATOR: Just to the northwest of Johannesburg, the Cradle of Humankind is riddled with limestone caves.