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Meet Homo naledi, newly discovered species of human relative

Professor Lee Berger holds a replica of the skull of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", during its unveiling outside Johannesburg September 10 2015. Humanity's claim to uniqueness just suffered another setback: scientists reported on Thursday that the newly discovered ancient species related to humans also appeared to bury its dead. Fossils of the creature were unearthed in a deep cave near the famed sites of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans, treasure troves 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Johannesburg that have yielded pieces of the puzzle of human evolution for decades. The new species has been named 'Homo naledi', in honour of the "Rising Star" cave where it was found. Naledi means "star" in South Africa's Sesotho language. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSG15

A research team has recently unearthed a new species of a human relative.

Homo naledi, uncovered in a cave outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, sheds light on the diversity of our genus and possibly its origin.

NYU anthropologist Scott Williams said that this discovery is unprecedented in the sheer number of hominins collected from such a small area in the virtual absence of other animal remains, which makes this site unique.

Williams added that the announcement describes only the tip of the iceberg of analyses that will come and they hope that is also true of the cave itself and the material that it still holds.

The discovery also indicates that H. naledi intentionally deposited bodies of its dead in a remote cave chamber, behaviors previously thought limited to humans.

Lee Berger, a research professor in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence led the expeditions that recovered the fossils, more than 1,500 bones belonging to at least 15 individuals.

The findings are published in two papers in the journal eLife.