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Discovering Homo Naledi: Findings from the Tooth Booth

Assistant Professor Juliet Brophy, Geography and Anthropology, talks about the discovery of a new early human ancestor
When Nov 02, 2017
from 06:00 PM to 07:00 PM
Where 135 French House
Contact Name
Contact Phone (225) 578-2479
Attendees Ogden Honors College students
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Professor Brophy is a paleoanthropologist who specializes in the study of teeth. Her expertise and experience from previous research at the fossil site, Malapa in South Africa, for which she has a paper in Science, earned her a coveted spot on the team that recently named the new early human ancestor, Homo naledi.

Finding Homo naledi was unprecedented in many ways. More than 1,500 fossils including 190 teeth were excavated from the Rising Star cave. No other site has yielded such a high concentration of early human fossil samples.

For six weeks in summer 2014, Brophy worked with a group of scientists from around the world in a room within the lab called the “tooth booth,” where she helped discover some unexpected findings. It has long been thought that early human ancestors had a small brain and large teeth that were used to eat a range of unrefined foraged foods. As hominins evolved to use tools and fire to prepare food, their teeth became smaller. However, Brophy and her colleagues found that the Homo naledi teeth are unexpectedly small for such a small brain size. This discovery begins to question when the shape and form of early human teeth change.

Dr. Brophy will discuss the naming of  Homo naledi. In particular, she will discuss what findings she and the team concluded while in the tooth booth. She will also discuss the interesting morphology of the whole skeleton and explore the mystery as to how the fossils came to be in the cave.