Homo naledi leaves South Africans speechless, proud

The species was unearthed from the largest deposit of fossils ever found on the African continent.

Homo Naledi's long, curved fingers are one of its most extraordinary features. Picture: Supplied.

MAROPENG - The unveiling of the Naledi fossils has left South Africans speechless, with many saying they are proud this discovery has been made on African soil.

Scientists in South Africa have revealed a brand new species, which has been called Homo naledi.

The species was unearthed from the largest deposit of fossils ever found on the African continent.

The announcement was made at the Maropeng Centre at the Cradle of Humankind by leading paleoanthropologist professor Lee Berger.

"I'm pleased to introduce you to a new species of human ancestor. The new species within our very own genus - a species we've called Homo naledi. Naledi, meaning star."

The team of experts, who helped discover the Naledi fossils, say the unveiling of the species has left them with nothing but gratitude.

"It gives me goose bumps, it's so inspiring, and I feel really proud. It means a lot to every human being around the world."

Picture: Six petite 'underground astronauts' had to squeeze through an 18cm gap to gain access to the fossil site deep underground.

Professor Burger's son, who headed the expedition, Mathew, says it was an honour working alongside his father.

"It's overwhelming, it's unbelievable."

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says the discovery is so significant that it will inspire poets.

"Naledi took a small step into that chamber, but for us as the people of the world, this for us the world this is a gigantic step to understand who we are."

Professor Berger says all Homo naledi fossils were found inside what's being called the 'Chamber of Stars', a deep underground time capsule; and there's only one explanation for that.

"Until this moment in history we thought that the idea of ritualised behaviours, directed towards the dead, things like burial or secreting your dead into deep chambers, was utterly unique to homo sapiens."

Picture: Lee Berger of the University of Witwatersrand.

Meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma has expressed his views on the discovery.

"This remarkable discovery follows intensive research by scientists under auspices of Department of Science and Technology and Wits University and we are truly proud that this happened on our soil. To all South Africans, we should be really proud, because we are the roots of humanity."

Technical explorer Maropeng Ramalepa, who was part of the team that made the remarkable discovery, says South Africans have every reason to celebrate.

"To all South Africans, we should be really proud, because we are the roots of humanity. Humans, going back millions of years ago, started here in Africa. Hence our continent is called the motherland."

The team of experts have called on South Africans to embrace this newly discovered species as it paves the way for the future of the study of the humankind.

Scientist professor John Hawks explains some of the similarities between humans and this new species.

"The foot which was found complete in articulation in the deposit, the other foot evidence we have from multiple individuals, shows a very human like foot anatomy. A foot that is very difficult to distinguish in any ways from our own. It's very clear that the legs and feet of Homo naledi were made for a long distance and effective walking."

The remarkable discovery of the new human relative has been described as a signal that the 21st century will become the "greatest age of exploration".

"We have discovered the largest ensemble of fossils of human relatives ever discovered in the history of the continent of Africa."

But it was Ramaphosa who spoke about the deeper meaning of the historic find.

"Despite our individual differences in the way we appear, in the languages that we speak, we are bound together by a common ancestry."

National Geographic''s head of exploration, Terry Garcia, says more discoveries will follow.

"When it seems that science has answered so many questions, there are still mysteries out there and there are still discoveries that are waiting for us."

The suggestion that Homo naledi may have buried its dead in an underground chamber raises new questions about what makes humans unique from animals.

#HomoNaledi I am currently building a time machine in order to interview @HomoNaledi in person.

Homo naledi fossils will go on display @MaropengSA for the public from 11 September - 11 October 2015 #HomoNaledi

We've been human for much longer than we thought #HomoNaledi

#HomoNaledi It's after 11am. So here's an exclusive glimpse at the bones. Taken inside the Wits vault -> pic.twitter.com/iSU94Va2tL

@loyisogola: And on the 8th day God created #HomoNaledi. Seeeeee God loves homosexuality.

If only #HomoNaledi could tell us why men evolved to be emotionally stunted and like to blow things up.

#HomoNaledi Light brown eyes, scar on the cheek. I'm a direct descendant B! LOL! pic.twitter.com/u6Y8QvUk9L

Nice to meet you #HomoNaledi - when are you going to start a Twitter account?