Anthropologists involved in new human species discovery

Gary Hughes
Palmar view on left; dorsal view on right. This hand was discovered in articulation and all bones are represented except for the pisiform. The proportions of digits are humanlike and visually apparent, as are the expanded distal apical tufts on all digits, the robust pollical ray, and the unique first metacarpal morphology.

Dr Tracy Kivell and Dr Matthew Skinner were key members of the team that worked on the fossil remains of Homo naledi, discovered in a S. African cave.

Consisting of more than 1,550 numbered fossil elements, this discovery is the single largest fossil hominin find yet made on the continent of Africa.

The initial discovery was made in 2013 in a cave known as Rising Star in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Johannesburg by Wits University scientists and volunteer cavers. The fossils lay in a chamber about 90 meters from the cave entrance, accessible only through a chute so narrow that a special team of very slender individuals was needed to retrieve them.

The finds are described in two papers published in the journal eLife, and are reported in a cover story in the October issue of National Geographic magazine and a NOVA/National Geographic Special. 

The announcement of the findings on 10 September has resulted in worldwide media headlines and attention, with Dr Skinner and Dr Kivell giving extensive interviews to news organisations across Europe, North America and South Asia.

Dr Kivell is a Reader in Biological Anthropology in the School of Anthropology & Conservation with research interests in primate locomotion, skeletal morphology, origin and evolution of human bipedalism and hand use.

Dr Skinner is a Senior Lecturer in Evolutionary Anthropology the School of Anthropology & Conservation with research interests in human evolution, dental anthropology, skeletal functional morphology, growth and development of hard tissues.