Researchers have found that an extinct human species buried their dead and carved symbols on cave walls 100,000 years before humans, challenging previous assumptions about human evolution.
The species, called Homo naledi, had brains about one-third the size of a modern human’s, according to CNN.
Until recently, this behavior was only associated with species that had larger brains such as Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals. CNN reported that three papers have been accepted to be published in eLife journal.
“These recent findings suggest intentional burials, the use of symbols, and meaning-making activities by Homo naledi. They indicate that this small-brained species of ancient human relatives were performing complex practices related to death,” paleoanthropologist Lee Berger said in a statement per CNN.
Berger was the author of two studies and a coauthor for the third. He is also a National Geographic Explorer-in Residence.
“That would mean not only are humans not unique in the development of symbolic practices, but may not have even invented such behaviors,” he said.
Homo naledi fossils were first discovered in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa in 2013, and Berger and his team have continued to explore the caves ever since.
The team found the remains of Homo naledi adults and children laid to rest in the fetal position and covered in soil, which pre-date any known Homo sapiens burials by at least 100,000 years.
Homo naledi walked upright and manipulated objects by hand like humans, Berger said, but they were shorter, thinner, had smaller heads, and were more powerfully built, per CNN.
According to CNN, the team found symbols inscribed on cave walls that resembled hashtags or other geometric symbols.
It is unclear what the symbols mean and whether the species used them to communicate.
The cave art was estimated to be between 241,000 and 335,000 years old.
“We can conclude that the geometric patterns were made intentionally and had a meaning to naledi,” Agustin fuentes, National Geographic Explorer who led author of the third study said on CNN.
“That means they spent a lot of time and effort and risked their lives to engrave these things in these places where they’re burying bodies.”
He said that the discovery challenges assumptions about the progress of human evolution.
“The problem is, we know now that Homo Naledi was engaging in behavior we thought unique only to humans, and that included Neanderthals, Denisovans, and others.
The post An extinct species buried their dead and carved symbols 100,000 years before humans. Researchers say that the findings are a challenge to our understanding of evolution. was first published on Business Insider .