O Homo naledi não tem 2-3 milhões de anos de idade - é apenas um jovem de 236 a 335 mil anos de idade!

terça-feira, maio 09, 2017

The age of Homo naledi and associated sediments in the Rising Star Cave, South Africa

Paul HGM Dirks Eric M Roberts Hannah Hilbert-Wolf Jan D Kramers John Hawks Anthony Dosseto Mathieu Duval Marina Elliott Mary Evans Rainer Grün John Hellstrom Andy IR Herries Renaud Joannes-Boyau Tebogo V Makhubela Christa J Placzek Jessie Robbins Carl Spandler Jelle Wiersma Jon Woodhead Lee R Berger

James Cook University, Australia; University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; University of Johannesburg, South Africa; University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States; University of Wollongong, Australia; Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Australia; Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), Spain; The Australian National University, Australia; The University of Melbourne, Australia; La Trobe University, Australia; Southern Cross University, Australia

Published May 9, 2017

Cite as eLife 2017;6:e24231

Source/Fonte: University of Wisconsin S. V. Medaris


New ages for flowstone, sediments and fossil bones from the Dinaledi Chamber are presented. We combined optically stimulated luminescence dating of sediments with U-Th and palaeomagnetic analyses of flowstones to establish that all sediments containing Homo naledi fossils can be allocated to a single stratigraphic entity (sub-unit 3b), interpreted to be deposited between 236 ka and 414 ka. This result has been confirmed independently by dating three H. naledi teeth with combined U-series and electron spin resonance (US-ESR) dating. Two dating scenarios for the fossils were tested by varying the assumed levels of 222Rn loss in the encasing sediments: a maximum age scenario provides an average age for the two least altered fossil teeth of 253 +82/–70 ka, whilst a minimum age scenario yields an average age of 200 +70/–61 ka. We consider the maximum age scenario to more closely reflect conditions in the cave, and therefore, the true age of the fossils. By combining the US-ESR maximum age estimate obtained from the teeth, with the U-Th age for the oldest flowstone overlying Homo naledi fossils, we have constrained the depositional age of Homo naledi to a period between 236 ka and 335 ka. These age results demonstrate that a morphologically primitive hominin, Homo naledi, survived into the later parts of the Pleistocene in Africa, and indicate a much younger age for the Homo naledi fossils than have previously been hypothesized based on their morphology.

eLife digest

Species of ancient humans and the extinct relatives of our ancestors are typically described from a limited number of fossils. However, this was not the case with Homo naledi. More than 1500 fossils representing at least 15 individuals of this species were unearthed from the Rising Star cave system in South Africa between 2013 and 2014. Found deep underground in the Dinaledi Chamber, the H. naledi fossils are the largest collection of a single species of an ancient human-relative discovered in Africa.

After the discovery was reported, a number of questions still remained. Not least among these questions was: how old were the fossils? The material was undated, and predictions ranged from anywhere between 2 million years old and 100,000 years old. H. naledi shared several traits with the most primitive of our ancient relatives, including its small brain. As a result, many scientists guessed that H. naledi was an old species in our family tree, and possibly one of the earliest species to evolve in the genus Homo.

Now, Dirks et al. – who include many of the researchers who were involved in the discovery of H. naledi – report that the fossils are most likely between 236,000 and 335,000 years old. These dates are based on measuring the concentration of radioactive elements, and the damage caused by these elements (which accumulates over time), in three fossilized teeth, plus surrounding rock and sediments from the cave chamber. Importantly, the most crucial tests were carried out at independent laboratories around the world, and the scientists conducted the tests without knowing the results of the other laboratories. Dirks et al. took these extra steps to make sure that the results obtained were reproducible and unbiased.

The estimated dates are much more recent than many had predicted, and mean that H. naledi was alive at the same time as the earliest members of our own species – which most likely evolved between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago. These new findings demonstrate why it can be unwise to try to predict the age of a fossil based only on its appearance, and emphasize the importance of dating specimens via independent tests. Finally in two related reports, Berger et al. suggest how a primitive-looking species like H. naledi survived more recently than many would have predicted, while Hawks et al. describe the discovery of more H. naledi fossils from a separate chamber in the same cave system.