Homo naledi — a South African fossil assemblage classified as a new Homo species by paleoanthropologist Lee Berger — is stirring up controversy as evolutionists debate its identity and significance. The cache of 1,550 bones was recovered from loose dirt in the nearly inaccessible Dinaledi chamber of South Africa's Rising Star cave system. The fossils were harvested by a team of slender scientists and spelunkers who had to belly crawl 80 meters through a narrow tunnel, climb a rock wall, and then drop down a chute into the chamber where other spelunkers had reported finding bones. The bones seem to belong to at least 15 infants, juveniles, and adults of the same species — whatever it is.
Berger's team believes the bones paint a mosaic picture of a species mixing human-like "Homo" and australopithecine ape features. Composites constructed from four partial skulls in the assemblage have small brain capacities — 560 cc and 465 cc — that overlap the usual brain capacities of australopithecines. Such braincases are much smaller than those seen in most archaic humans1 and less than half the average for modern humans. Nevertheless, despite a sloped lower face and—based on the published photographs — no visible evidence of the protruding nasal bones typical of all humans, Berger has identified the fossils as a new species of human ancestor, Homo naledi.