Lakehead University professor co-authors paper on Homo naledi

Matt Tocheri


Oct. 7, 2015 – Thunder Bay, ON

Lakehead University’s Dr. Matt Tocheri is a co-author of a paper published in Nature Communications that sheds new light on the hand of Homo naledi, a new species of ancient human announced last month.

The paper is based on nearly 150 hand bones, including a nearly complete adult right hand, while a second paper is based on 107 foot bones, including a well preserved adult right foot. All of these skeletal remains were uncovered from the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system in South Africa.

“The hand of H. naledi is one of the most complete fossil human hands ever discovered and it shows a combination of features that we have never seen before in other fossil human hands,” said Dr. Tocheri, an expert on the evolution of the human hand.

“For instance, its wrist and thumb are very similar to that of modern humans and Neandertals in shape and proportions, suggesting the ability to form the forceful precision grips needed for making complex stone tools. However, its finger bones are markedly curved, which indicates that the hand was used regularly for climbing,” Dr. Tocheri said.

Curved finger bones are the result of bone remodeling during life to better withstand the forces the hand experiences when grabbing onto branches overhead and supporting most of the body weight underneath. Orangutans, for example, have the most curved finger bones of living great apes and are also the most arboreal, he said.

Similarly, the foot is essentially modern human-like in overall form with the exception that the toe bones are more curved. So while the foot was well-adapted for walking on two legs, this species was clearly also using its feet regularly for climbing. 

These two papers provide important insights into the skeletal form and function of an extinct species of human that may also have characterized other early members of the genus Homo.

Dr. Tocheri is Canada Research Chair in Human Origins at Lakehead University.  

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In 2015, Lakehead University will celebrate 50 years of exceptional education. Guided by its Strategic Plan (2013-2018), Lakehead is known for providing an education focused on independent thinking, unconventional scholarship, and a close sense of community. About 9,700 full-time equivalent students and 2,000 faculty and staff learn and work in ten faculties at two campuses in Orillia and Thunder Bay, Ontario. Lakehead University is a fully comprehensive university: home to Ontario’s newest Faculty of Law in 44 years, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and faculties of Engineering, Business Administration, Health & Behavioural Sciences, Social Sciences & Humanities, Science & Environmental Studies, Natural Resources Management, Education, and Graduate Studies.


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