We're probably not alone in the universe and we were definitely not alone on this planet.
Scientists have discovered the remains of 15 partial skeletons deep within a South African cave system. They belong to a species of hominid unlike anything ever found before.
They aren't neanderthals, they aren't homo sapiens, but they seem to come from one of our common ancestors. Scientists named the bones homo naledi.
While Lee Berger, the lead researcher behind the study, tells New Scientist that the species "doesn't look a lot like us," his team believes that features observed in the skull, hands and teeth of the skeletons make it part of the Homo genus.
They certainly have enough evidence from which to draw that kind of conclusion: the fossil find in the cave system was particularly rich. In fact, the team uncovered an amazing 1,400 bones and 140 teeth during a single field trip to the site. The team reckons the fossils could date back as far as 3 million years — though an accurate date is yet to be confirmed.
...The remains that have so far been studied suggest that Homo naledi was an unusual-looking creature. Its pelvis and shoulder are, apparently, reminiscent of apes that lived 4 million years ago, while its feet resemble Homo sapien remains from just 200,000 years ago. Meanwhile, its skull was much smaller, containing a brain less than half the size of modern humans. The team reckon the creature could have stood 5 feet tall and weighed almost 100 pounds.
What is the craziest part of this discovery is that these non-humans were intelligent enough to pull their dead into the sort of burial chamber, which hints at basic emotional understanding. They knew things!
Mashable put together this great video showcasing some of the researchers who discovered these mysterious hominid cousins: