Humans didn’t live with dinosaurs… but maybe with ape-men.

Nature shines new light on a very old hominid – “Neo,” the ape-like Homo naledi who may have coexisted with early modern humans:

H. naledi was uncovered in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa in 2013, where a team led by palaeoanthropologist Lee Berger, at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, found a huge trove of ancient human bones and teeth. Now, Berger and his colleagues say that they have dated those remains to between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago, and that they have since discovered more of the species’ skeletons.

The date is “astonishingly young for a species that still displays primitive characteristics found in fossils about 2 million years old”, says Chris Stringer, an anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London. The brain of H. naledi came close in size to that of very early members of the Homo genus, and of ancient australopiths — and was only slightly larger than that of a chimpanzee. Its curved fingers and its shoulder, trunk and hip joints also seem ancient, Stringer says. “Yet the wrist, hands, legs and feet look more like those of Neanderthals and modern humans, and the teeth are relatively small and simple, and set in lightly built jawbones.”

According to Berger, the find also suggests that H. naledi was likely to have shared cognitive traits with modern humans, such as making and using tools; its modern-like hands were capable of manipulating tools, he says. Although no stone tools were found alongside H. naledi, Berger contends that similarly aged tools from southern Africa could have been made by the species — and not early Homo sapiens, as most archaeologists had assumed.

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