Juvenile Skeleton Offers Clues on How Our Ancestors Grew Up

(CN) — The discovery of a partial skeleton of a human ancestor may help scientists better understand our evolution, according to findings released Wednesday.

A study published in the journal PLOS ONE by Debra Bolter of California’s Modesto Junior College and her team details what they discovered from the examination of fossils from the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star Cave System in South Africa. The cave system has become an important site for researchers, as it contains several fossils of the hominin Homo naledi.

Homo naledi juvenile remains offers clues to how our ancestors grew up. (Bolter et al. PLOS ONE 2020)

The fossils of a single young individual designated DH7 date back to the late Middle Pleistocene Era, roughly 335,000 and 226,000 years ago. What makes DH7 unique is the young developmental age of the specimen

While scientists have been able to examine the evolution of ancient human ancestors and relatives, most fossils recovered have been adults. Little is known about the growth and development of these ancient hominins, leaving a knowledge gap in how modern human growth patterns evolved over time.

The researchers found that the teeth and bones of DH7 were not completely developed and show a combination of maturity patterns found in both modern humans and earlier ancestors. While DH7 is estimated to be between 8 and 11 years old at death, it may have been as old as 15, depending on its growth rate.

“The rare juvenile Homo naledi partial skeleton will shed light on whether this extinct species is more human-like in its development, or more primitive. The findings help reconstruct the selective pressures that shaped extended maturity in our own species,” Bolter said with the release of the study.

Researchers said more study is needed to discover how the hominin grew and how it fits into human evolution.  

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