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How long ago did Homo naledi roam the earth?

Dr Francis Thackeray says his estimated two million year mark could be off by up to 500,000 years.

FILE: Thackeray has developed a mathematical technique to measure the size of Homo naledi skull, and compare them to other distant human relatives.

JOHANNESBURG - New research in the South African Journal of Science has tried to answer one of the lingering questions around the discovery of Homo naledi - how long ago these creatures roamed the earth.

Renowned Wits Palaeoanthropologist, Francis Thackeray, says hundreds the fossils found inside a cave in the Cradle of Humankind are around two million years old.

Homo naledi is believed to be a brand new species of human relative and has raised fundamental questions around the birth of consciousness.

Dr Thackeray says he has developed a mathematical technique to measure the size of Homo naledi skulls, and compare them to other distant human relatives.

"What we were able to show, through this mathematical technique, is that Homo naledi is indeed different from about ten other species, which we have on record."

Thackeray believes Homo naledi may have been an early ancestor of homo erectus and that his estimated two million year mark could be off by up to 500,000 years in either direction.

He says his research has already attracted interest from leading universities in Europe and America and illustrates the potential of discoveries like the one made by Professor Lee Berger and his team to advance scientific knowledge.