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New human ancestor showed respect for dead

By Jon von Radowitz

A mysterious ancient human with the lithe body of a ballet dancer has astonished scientists by appearing to show respect for its dead.

Huge numbers of the previously unknown creature's bones were discovered in a remote cave in South Africa that can only be accessed through a "chute" seven inches wide. Experts believe the slender hominin, whose age is uncertain but may have lived around two million years ago, had used the cave as a burial chamber.

Professor Lee Berger, from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, who led an expedition to the site some 30 miles north-west of Johannesburg, said: "We have just met a new species of human relative that deliberately disposed of its dead. We have now seen, we believe, a species that had that the same capacity, and that is extraordinary."

Only remains of the creature, named Homo naledi, were discovered in the Rising Star cave, which is part of South Africa's Cradle of Humankind world heritage site. More than 1,550 individual bone pieces were identified, making it the largest single assemblage of hominin fossils ever discovered in Africa.

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