Homo naledi: Game changer or evolutionary oddity?

The unveiling of a new human relative has sparked some scepticism in the international science community.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at the unveiling of the Homo naledi fossils. Picture: Christa Eybers/ EWN.

MAROPENG - As the world unpacks Thursday's announcement of what scientists say is a new species of human relative, the claim has been met with scepticism by some members of the international science community.

A new species with human-like features called Homo naledi was revealed as a historic discovery made in South Africa.

Details of the significant fossil discovery have been kept secret for years and were unveiled at Maropeng in the Cradle of Humankind.

It's a groundbreaking discovery that will help us better understand who we are and how we evolved.

Professor Lee Berger is adamant about his hypothesis, that he and the Rising Star expedition team have discovered a new species of human relative that seems to have buried its dead.

But outside of South Africa, there is scepticism about that claim.

Some scientists reportedly question whether this find is really a game changer, as Berger suggests, or more of an evolutionary oddity.

Others accuse him of chasing headlines and playing the media.

WATCH: The Homo naledi species which was unveiled to the world in Maropeng on Thursday, has opened a door to a new debate on what makes humans unique.

Berger knew this criticism was coming and even alluded to it during Thursday's unveiling.

He said, "Any other scientist is more than welcome to examine the evidence and formulate hypothesis. This was no said lightly and it was shopped around hundreds of scientists around the world."

The fossils are yet to be dated and the peer review process of the findings is still underway.


A leading UK scientist has praised the team involved in the discovery of Homo naledi for its transparency regarding their findings.

The so-called Naked Scientist, Chris Smith, says the team has been open and honest allowing its work to be scrutinised.

"The first thing they've done is to publish the results in a journal which is open access, this means anyone in the world can gain access to the paper and to read it for themselves and begin to make their mind up."

But not all the reaction to this groundbreaking find has been positive.

The New York Times quoted an expert in the field of human evolution who questions the classifying of this new species in the Homo class, the same designation humans fall under.

The age of the bones is also still unclear and Smith says scientists have years of work ahead of them.

He adds the most important step for the team right now is to try to extract DNA from the fossils.

"Because they're in such pristine conditions they may too surrender their DNA secrets. So that's going to be the other really key thing to look into.

"Once you've got a DNA message from these individuals that will really begin to shed some light on where they fit into things because you can't argue with the DNA."