The discovery in a cave near Johannesburg of ancient bones which scientists say belong to a new member of the human tree will not change views on creation or the Bible, says African Christian Democratice Party (ACDP) MP Cherollyn Dudley.
In a statement congratulating the Rising Star Expedition – a team of scientists and researchers, led by Wits University professor Lee Berger – on their recent find in Maropeng, Dudley says: “This will hopefully attract attention to the area and have a positive effect on local tourism and visitors to what has been called the ‘Cradle of Humankind’. This sort of find will also no doubt, add to the many theories around the history of humankind and Planet Earth itself”.
“As to assumptions that this could cause a shift in Christianity in the country in terms of how we think about the creation and the Bible – I really do not think there is any danger of that”, Dudley said. “After all many who have rebelled against God have been trying to disprove His existence and His Word since the beginning of time and it has had little to no impact on the spread of Christianity and the passion of the significant numbers globally who are convinced that the Almighty God is the creator of the universe and all that is in it – including ‘Homo naledi’ and those remains found alongside ‘Homo naledi’,” she says.
She comments: “The ACDP supports scientific endeavors believing God has many hidden mysteries still to be discovered by mankind. This sort of discovery has no implications in terms of the party’s outlook. We expect discoveries of this nature and are happy for those who will benefit.
“The expedition is said to have already removed parts of 15 individuals from the chamber and researchers believe they’re just scratching the surface and that there may be hundreds or even thousands more fossilised remains waiting to be unearthed. So far only Homo naledi is said to be unusual and I am sure the rest of the find will add to the speculation and wonder regarding Gods diverse and intricate creation which includes so many species of all kinds.”
Fox News.com says the huge trove of bones is barely accessible, in a pitch-dark chamber of a cave .
The report says: “The creature shows a surprising mix of human-like and more primitive characteristics — some experts called it ‘bizarre’ and “weird”.
And the discovery presents some key mysteries: How old are the bones? And how did they get into that chamber, reachable only by a complicated pathway that includes squeezing through passages as narrow as about 7 1/2 inches?
The site, about 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg, has yielded some 1 550 specimens since its discovery in 2013. The fossils represent at least 15 individuals.
Researchers named the creature Homo naledi. That reflects the “Homo” evolutionary group, which includes modern people and our closest extinct relatives, and the word for “star” in a local language. The find was made in the Rising Star cave system.
The creature, which evidently walked upright, represents a mix of traits. For example, the hands and feet look like Homo, but the shoulders and the small brain recall Homo’s more ape-like ancestors, the researchers said.
Lee Berger, a professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who led the work, said naledi’s anatomy suggest that it arose at or near the root of the Homo group, which would make the species some 2.5 million to 2.8 million years old. The discovered bones themselves may be younger, he said.
The researchers announced the discovery Thursday in the journal eLife and at a news conference in the Cradle of Humankind, a site near the village of Magaliesburg. They said they were unable to determine an age for the fossils because of unusual characteristics of the site, but that they are still trying.
Berger said researchers are not claiming that neledi was a direct ancestor of modern-day people, and experts unconnected to the project said they believed it was not.
Rick Potts, director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum, who was not involved in the discovery, said that without an age, “there’s no way we can judge the evolutionary significance of this find.”
If the bones are about as old as the Homo group, that would argue that naledi is “a snapshot of … the evolutionary experimentation that was going on right around the origin” of Homo, he said. If they are significantly younger, it either shows the naledi retained the primitive body characteristics much longer than any other known creature, or that it re-evolved them, he said.
Eric Delson of Lehman College in New York, who also wasn’t involved with the work, said his guess is that naledi fits within a known group of early Homo creatures from around 2 million year ago.
Besides the age of the bones, another mystery is how they got into the difficult-to-reach area of the cave. The researchers said they suspect the naledi may have repeatedly deposited their dead in the room, but alternatively it may have been a death trap for individuals that found their own way in.
“This stuff is like a Sherlock Holmes mystery,” declared Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study. Visitors to the cave must have created artificial light, as with a torch, Wood said. The people who did cave drawings in Europe had such technology, but nobody has suspected that mental ability in creatures with such a small brain as naledi, he said.
Potts said a deliberate disposal of dead bodies is a feasible explanation, but he added it’s not clear who did the disposing. Maybe it was some human relative other than naledi, he said.
Not everybody agreed that the discovery revealed a new species. Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, called that claim questionable. “From what is presented here, (the fossils) belong to a primitive Homo erectus, a species named in the 1800s,” he said in an email.