Fossil remains of new hominin species Homo naledi discovered in South Africa

Paleontologists have discovered the fossil remains of a new hominin species in a dark cave system in South Africa and published their preliminary results in eLife. The new species has been named Homo naledi, which means “star man” in Sotho, after the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system where it was found. Homo naledi is characterized by a small body and brain size, but it also features several adaptations of the hands and feet that are relatively similar to modern humans. The age of Homo naledi and its position in the phylogenetic tree of hominins is still unresolved, but it is believed to be one of the more primitive ancestors of mankind. So far, an unprecedented 1550 remains of at least 15 individuals of Homo naledi have been unearthed, representing the largest fossil assemblage of a single hominin species ever found in Africa. Given the richness and exceptional preservation state of these fossils, it is speculated that Homo naledi may have been capable of performing primitive burial rites.

Journal references:

Berger, L. R., Hawks, J., de Ruiter, D. J., Churchill, S. E., Schmid, P., Delezene, L. K., … & Zipfel, B. (2015). Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa. eLife4, e09560.

Dirks, P. H., Berger, L. R., Roberts, E. M., Kramers, J. D., Hawks, J., Randolph-Quinney, P. S., … & Tucker, S. (2015). Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa. eLife4, e09561.

Image: Fossil remains of Homo naledi, the new hominin species discovered in South Africa. Source: Lee Berger, Wikimedia Commons.

Fossil pigments reveal that dinosaurs may have laid colored eggs

Scientists at the University of Bonn have found pigments in fossilized eggs of dinosaurs, which indicates that dinosaurs may have laid colored eggs similar to modern birds. The scientists performed organic geochemical analyses on well preserved, 66 million year old fossil remains of eggshells belonging to the oviraptor Heyuannia huangi and discovered the presence of the pigments protoporphyrin and biliverdin. These pigments are known to be responsible for the blue and green colors in present-day robin and emu eggs, respectively, which suggests that the studied oviraptor eggs may have had blue-green colors as well. It is believed that these oviraptor eggs were laid in partially open ground nests and therefore, their blue-green coloring may have provided a means of camouflage against predators. This study is the first to reconstruct the color of dinosaur eggs and provides a link between the reproductive biology of dinosaurs and the evolutionary traits inherited by modern birds.

Journal reference: Wiemann, J., Yang, T. R., Sander, P. N., Schneider, M., Engeser, M., Kath-Schorr, S., … & Sander, P. M. (2015). The blue-green eggs of dinosaurs: How fossil metabolites provide insights into the evolution of bird reproduction (No. e1323). PeerJ PrePrints.

Image: Reconstruction of Tyrannosaurus rex in Palais de la Découverte, Paris, France. Source: David Monniaux, Wikimedia Commons.