a level of violence unprecedented in post-apartheid South Africa… — BBC

Lee Berger hired a cave explorations team in 2012.  Homo naledi was first discovered by two young white South African cave explorers Steven Tucker and Rick Hunter in 2013, approximately 60 miles northwest of Johannesburg.

Description from the Smithsonian:

Lee BergerRick Hunter and Steven Tucker found an additional 133 Homo naledi specimens in the nearby Lesedi Chamber in 2013, representing at least another 3 individuals – two adults and a juvenile. In 2017, the Homo naledi fossils were dated to between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago.

The placement of Homo naledi in the evolutionary tree of the genus Homo is currently unresolved. Homo naledi possessed a mixture of traits that are Australopithecus-like (particularly in the pelvis and shoulder) and Homo-like (particularly in the hands and feet…

Naledi was first believed to be in the 2 million year old range.  But as Time notes with the new dates, “the species existed at the same time as the earliest humans evolved.”

Nearly 8 years later, Naledi is now regarded as one of the key branches in the human evolutionary tree (or bush).

From CNN, June 29:

it was a significant discovery that has since helped to fill some gaps in our understanding of human evolution.

And evidence is now pointing to a direct ancestral lineage to modern day Africans.

John Hawks“We do know that African populations derive some small fraction of their DNA, possibly as much as 5%… from archaic lineages that we haven’t discovered… there is some sign of some archaic lineage that’s contributed to some populations. What we don’t know is the identity of that lineage… It could be Naledi?” — Prof. John Hawks, Oct. 2017, Univ. of Wisconsin lecture

More from Berger and Hawks,  Subspecieist.com Dec. 2020:

“the genomes of Hadza, Sandawe, Biaka, Baka, and San people bear evidence of a small fraction of introgression from highly genetically divergent populations that no longer exist.

Other prominent anthropologists agree.  Juliet Brophy, LSA Anthropology Prof. TED Talk, 2018:

”Homo naledi has taught us that we need to reassess what it means to be in the Genus Homo.  We need to rethink what it means to be human…  No other species exists with this mix of primitive and derived traits…  another aspect, for the first time we have a species coexisting in Africa with modern humans.  Until this discovery we only had modern humans, large brained modern humans that existed in Africa.  Did they interbreed with each other.”

“The vault [at Wits] was home to almost 60% of the world’s fossils, including… Homo naledi…”

The Homo naledi collection of fossils is stored in an underground vault at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits for short).  The vault is generally regarded as the most important storage facility for ancient human fossils in the world.  It was opened in December of 2015.

From BrandSouthAfrica.com:

The Homo naledi fossils, which were recently discovered in the Dinaledi Cave in Gauteng, have been given a new home at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

The fossils are now housed in the vault at the Phillip V Tobias Fossil Primate and Hominid Laboratory on campus

Archaeologist Lee Berger, an American based at Wits’ world-renowned centre, said the vault was home to almost 60% of the world’s fossils, including the recently discovered Homo naledi…. The new species, Homo naledi, was named after the chamber in which it was discovered, in the Rising Star caves.

At its opening in July, Berger said the vault held more scientific information on how humans evolved and where we came from than any other facility worldwide. “Right here in this vault, this word-class vault, is the majority of their assemblage. It’s held in high security because this is all of human heritage.”

Rioting, looting in Jeppestown, less than 1 mile from the vault at Wits

South AfricaJohannesburg is located in the Gauteng Province near the center of South Africa.  Just south of Johannesburg is the suburb of Katelhong. It is near south Johannesburg, a mere 12 miles from Wits straight up Hwy. 3.

Katelhong has seen some of the very worst of the looting.  A particular news report seen worldwide showed looters in a “cat and mouse” game with police.  Looters ransacked an upscale mall, while security guards occasionally fired warning shots to no avail.

Reporter with SABC News, July 12:

Just have a look there.  Those live pictures.  Every time the police move away, they keep… there you have it, more people moving in to go and loot.  At this particular mall in Katelhang.

More from the BBC, July 12,

South Africa Zuma riots: Looting and unrest leaves 72 dead

More than 200 shopping malls had been looted by Monday afternoon, Bloomberg news agency quoted the chief executive officer of Business Leadership South Africa, Busisiwe Mavuso, as saying.

And looters are not just hitting shops.  More:

Several shopping centres in Soweto – South Africa’s largest township which was once home to Nelson Mandela – have been completely ransacked, with ATMs broken into, restaurants, stores selling alcohol and clothing shops all left in tatters…

Video footage shows that a blood bank was looted in Durban as Mr Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Monday night.

From Reuters, July 12,

South Africa violence spreads to Johannesburg

Shops were looted overnight, a section of highway was closed and stick-wielding protesters marched through Johannesburg…

The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) said there had been looting in the Alexandra township and Jeppestown suburb on Saturday night.

Jeppestown is right next to Wits, less than a mile away.

On July 16, 5 days after the rioting and looting started to spread, Subspeciest.com reached out to Prof. Berger about the safety and security of the collection.  His response was notably brief and to the point:

“We have protocols for such situations”

Note – see a great intro video (cover photo) on Homo naledi by amateur paleo-anthropologist Stefan Milo at YouTube.


Author Eric

FSU grad, US Navy Veteran. Houston, Texas

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