“Skeleton Key” in the spring 2016 edition of LSA Magazine highlights the work of a number of our Michigan Anthropology paleoanthropology alumni on the Homo naledi fossils, and the open source nature of the Rising Star project.

The earliest humans belonged to the genus Australopithecus, which included species that shared both human and ape-like traits. Like humans, they walked on two legs and had small canine teeth. Like apes, they had small brains and long, curved fingers. Australopithecusincludes several species who all lived between 4.4 and 1.3 million years ago.The Homo genus began about 2.5 million years ago. “In anthropology, we tend to classify things in Homo if they have large brains and hands that look like they’re capable of making tools,” explains John Hawks (M.A. ’96, Ph.D. ’99), a leader of the Rising Star Project. “The idea is these different traits belong together, that the Homo genus happened because some sort of hominin—the name of the tribe to which we, extinct humans, and our immediate ancestors all belong—became smarter, made tools, and got larger brains and smaller teeth. For a long time, that’s the way we thought these things went together.”