Abstract | Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

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Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa

Abstract

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James Cook University, Australia; University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; University of Johannesburg, South Africa; University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States; Simon Fraser University, Canada; University of Colorado Denver, United States; Duke University, United States; Texas A&M University, United States; University of Zurich, Switzerland; American University, United States

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.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.09561.001