Lee Berger announces Homo naledi used special markings for guidance in the dark cave system
Dr. Lee Berger is a professor of evolutionary science at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. He is also on the National Board of the National Geographic Society, and is a designated NatGeo Worldwide Explorer. Dr. Berger is best known for having co-discovered two different hominin species – Australopithecus sediba in 2008 and Homo naledi in 2012. Both were found in South Africa.
We have covered Dr. Berger and Homo naledi extensively over the years at Subspecieist. Our latest article from March 31,
Homo naledi culture, stone tools, DNA? Lee Berger teases huge announcement any day now
Dr. Berger was a guest on Australian Radio on March 20. He was in Brisbane, Australia for a paleo-anthropology conference, the World Science Festival, March 24-26:
Professor Lee Berger has been leading some of the most revolutionary explorations, with ground-breaking expeditions across Africa. He joins Brian Greene to discuss the major discoveries of the last two decades in the search for human origins.
Berger further stated on Australia Radio:
I announced in December, that we found fire. Within the next couple of months you are going to see extraordinary discoveries that we made. We’re on the verge of for the first time in human history being able to examine, a non-human species with culture.
Today Dr. Berger held a worldwide press conference at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. Stony Brook has a longstanding first rate human evolution department and has sponsored numerous human origins forums over the years.
Berger detailed how the team had discovered markings on the cave walls.
From CNN, June 5,
Mysterious species buried their dead and carved symbols 100,000 years before humans
During the work to identify the cave burials, the scientists also found a number of symbols engraved on the cave walls, which are estimated to be between 241,000 and 335,000 years old, but they want to continue their testing for more precise dating.
The symbols include deeply carved hashtag-like cross-hatchings and other geometric shapes. Similar symbols found in other caves were carved by early Homo sapiens 80,000 years ago and Neanderthals 60,000 years ago and were thought to have been used as a way to record and share information.
During his press conference Berger showed photographs of crosshatch markings in the Dinaledi chamber.
Crosshatches are markings used by archaic hominins, including Neanderthals at Gibraltar. Neanderthals were also known to use chevron markings.
From the BBC, September 2014,
Neanderthal ‘artwork’ found in Gibraltar cave
The pattern, which bears a passing resemblance to the grid for a game of noughts and crosses, was inscribed on a rock at the back of Gorham’s Cave.
Berger is quoted at Yahoo News:
[The crosshatch markings] “That would mean not only are humans not unique in the development of symbolic practices, but may not have even invented such behaviours…”
Team member Professor John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, and co-author of the new book with Berger, “Cave of Bones,” is quoted:
“There’s an intentionality to making a mark. But whether that mark was embedded in some system of meaning, we can’t see.
Agustin Fuentes is a professor of anthropology at Princeton University. He was a member of the Berger team. He is also quoted in the Yahoo News piece and puts even heavier importance on the markings:
“Burial, meaning-making, even ‘art’ could have a much more complicated, dynamic, non-human history than we previously though.”
Fuentes also Tweeted out:
Do large brains explain social complexity in the hominins? Maybe not.
Fuentes is the lead author of a paper at Biorxiv just released with Berger, Keneiloe Molopyane (pronounced – Ken-yie-lo-ee) et.al.
Burials and engravings in a small-brained hominin, Homo naledi, from the late Pleistocene: contexts and evolutionary implications
The evidence from Dinaledi push back the temporal origins of… the creation of meaning making with a small-brained species and thus challenge key assumptions about the role and importance of encephalization in human evolution.
Note – encephalization simply means brain development and growth.
Fuentes et.al. continue:
This suggests that the hominin socio-cognitive niche and its relation to meaning-making activities is more diverse than previously thought. The association of these activities in subterranean spaces accessed and modified by the small brained species Homo naledi impacts assertations that technological and cognitive advances in human evolution are associated solely with the evolution of larger brains.
Modern Africans could be admixed with Homo naledi
The Durvasula – Sankararaman study released in January 2020 found that Africans have as much as 19% archaic ghost species DNA admixture.
Homo naledi is at ~550cc brain size. In comparison Chimpanzees are at 350cc, Homo habilis was at 600c, and Homo erectus 900 to 1,100cc.
Professor Steven Churchill, a member of the Berger team, quoted on YouTube at the Dissenter, October 2022:
It has a small brain. 550 cubic centimeters. The average for Homo erectus is about 900 cubic centimeters. So, it has a brain about the size of a Gorilla’s brain. It’s relatively small-bodied. There are aspects of its body that are very primitive… these are features that we see in the Australopiths. A little ape man if you will…
What’s interesting is a work that’s been done on the genome of people who are indigenous to Africa… what they call a ghost lineage which contributed genetically to our lineage. That could be Naledi,
Average modern human brain size is 1,350cc. Europeans are admixed with Neanderthals at 1,450cc. Asians are admixed with Denisovans at 1,500cc.
Martha Christina, a genetics researcher in South Africa agrees that Homo naledi genes could show up in modern Africans:
Many South Africans have morphological traits, resembling those of Homo naledi. These traits are prevalent especially in southern Africans, some members of the African population, within the borders of the Republic of South Africa, who are now scattered across the 9 provinces.
See our article from October 2022: “Homo naledi awe-inspiring morphological traits, yes, definite common #1 traits with South African populations”