Speed Reads

game changer

This ancient relative of Homo sapiens may have co-existed with early humans

Humans' supposedly ancient relative might not actually be that old. New research has revealed that Homo naledi, a human relative first discovered two years ago in South Africa, may have actually still been roaming the Earth when humans appeared.

Scientists originally thought the fossils of the species they'd uncovered in a South African cave system were as old as 2.5 million years. Now that the sediments the fossils were found in have been dated, that estimate is between 236,000 and 335,000 years. That means Homo naledi and Homo sapiens could have co-existed in Africa some 300,000 years ago. "No one thought that a small-brained, primitive hominin could extend down through time this long and that period is exactly the moment when we thought modern humans were arising here in Africa," said Lee Berger, project leader for Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand.

Examinations of Homo naledi fossils revealed a species with a brain "much smaller than humans', suggesting the creatures were more primitive," Time reported. The species does appear to have "human-like feet and curved hands with opposable thumbs."

Scientists aren't yet sure how humans and the species may have interacted. "Could there have been gene exchange between Homo naledi and early Homo sapiens?" Berger told Reuters. "It's entirely possible."