Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa
OPEN eLife | 12 Sep 2015
PH Dirks, LR Berger, EM Roberts, JD Kramers, J Hawks, PS Randolph-Quinney, M Elliott, CM Musiba, SE Churchill, DJ de Ruiter, P Schmid, LR Backwell, GA Belyanin, P Boshoff, KL Hunter, EM Feuerriegel, A Gurtov, Jdu G Harrison, R Hunter, A Kruger, H Morris, TV Makhubela, B Peixotto and S Tucker
We describe the physical context of the Dinaledi Chamber within the Rising Star cave, South Africa, which contains the fossils of Homo naledi. Approximately 1550 specimens of hominin remains have been recovered from at least 15 individuals, representing a small portion of the total fossil content. Macro-vertebrate fossils are exclusively H. naledi, and occur within clay-rich sediments derived from in situ weathering, and exogenous clay and silt, which entered the chamber through fractures that prevented passage of coarser-grained material. The chamber was always in the dark zone, and not accessible to non-hominins. Bone taphonomy indicates that hominin individuals reached the chamber complete, with disarticulation occurring during/after deposition. Hominins accumulated over time as older laminated mudstone units and sediment along the cave floor were eroded. Preliminary evidence is consistent with deliberate body disposal in a single location, by a hominin species other than Homo sapiens, at an as-yet unknown date.
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