The four tired, dusty and bedraggled archaeologists crawled the ninety metres from the burial chamber, through the chute just 18 centimetres wide, to reach the cave entrance located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site 50 metres Northwest of Johannesburg. They had spent the last eighteen months excavating the chamber, and tomorrow they would be declaring their find of a new species of early mankind to the world. Media photographers would be shown the array of the remains of at least fifteen fossilised skeletons of the species, called Homo Naledi they had discovered so far hidden deep in the cave called the “Star Chamber”. This species could provide the ‘missing link’ in the story of mankind’s evolution, and was therefore an extremely exciting discovery.
As they washed the dirt from their weary selves and prepared to eat their evening meal in the large tent they had called home for the length of their explorations, they were discussing the find. The leader of the group, Professor Lee Berger, told the others how priveleged they all were to be part of a discovery that could rewrite the history books.
“I’d like to share my views of the discovery on you all before I have to speak to the media tomorrow, if you don’t mind” he said. The others, Dr Marcus Storey, Dr Margaret Blackman and Professor Daniel Cobb, agreed, and listened intently as they ate their supper.
“Homo Naledi looks like one of the most primitive members of our genus, but it also has some surprisingly human-like features” he began. “We can see their teeth were similar to those of the earliest known humans, as were most features of their skulls, but their brains were tiny, about the size of an orange. Their shoulders were similar to those of apes, well designed for climbing, although their feet and legs were human-like. The early humans stood about five feet tall, and weighed about a hundred pounds. Their hips were similar to our earliest ancestor, the hominid Lucy, discovered earlier in the Rift Valley of Kenya. Ladies and gentleman, I consider this to be nothing short of a remarkable discovery that could overturn much of what we think about who and what we are.”
“Very clear and to the point” said Daniel “but could you add that no archaeological remains have been found in the cave, so it appears the remains were placed there intentionally as a form of ritual burial, a practice previously thought to be restricted to modern man.”
“Good point, Daniel” said Lee
“Anyone got anything else to add?”
Margaret pushed her empty plate to one side and wiped her mouth. ” You didn’t mention that the remains could be up to three million years old,” she said “and that they are believed to be parts of infants, children, adults and elderly of the same species, taken into the cave one at a time over a long period.”
“Another very relevant point Margaret” he said. “Well done, Anything from you, Marcus?”
“Sounded great to me” he said “It will certainly ruffle a few feathers among the old fogy historians tomorrow. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to bed, I’m dead beat. What a relief not to have to crawl through that awful tunnel in the morning.”
They all agreed that sleep was a good idea, and retired to their quarters. The camp settled down and before long, silence reigned and the only lights were from the stars twinkling in the inky black sky above.
Meanwhile, deep in the Star Chamber, something stired. Grump, the adult male hominid emerged from a small side tunnel. “Thank Heaven they’ve gone” he said.
“Mabel” he called to his wife” It’s all clear, you can bring the kids out. They’ve gone, and they’ve left some bones out for our supper, that’s nice of them isn’t it?”