Homo naledi and me

Last week’s news out of South Africa reminds me of something my mom once pointed out: that I’d be happy living in a cave as long as I had a remote control and a jar of my beloved peanut butter.

She’s not that far off.

I would only add a plush recliner from which to wield the remote and a spoon for the peanut butter.

My mom may think she raised a modern-day caveman, but if I ever decide to chuck it all, at least I wouldn’t necessarily be roughing it. And, she might be relieved to know that I’m heeding her admonishment to keep my fingers out of the peanut butter jar because “someone else might want to make a sandwich!”

I thought of my mother’s assessment of my not-so-sophisticated habits when I got out of bed the morning the South African discovery was made public.

Being a journalist, I customarily check to see what’s been making news while I’ve been happily unconscious. My first stop is usually my phone, mainly because it’s been nagging at me to get up. It doubles as my alarm clock. After I shut off the alarm, I start scrolling through the alerts it received while I was asleep.

The first alert to catch my eye that morning was the story from South Africa, where scientists say they’ve found the fossilized remains of a previously unknown species related to humans.

My curiosity was sparked, so I checked the website of my employer, NPR. Sure enough, the discovery was prominently displayed at the top of the page.

With funding from the National Geographic Society, scientists have uncovered a trove of more than 1,550 fossils in a nearly impossible to reach part of a cave popular with spelunkers. And, they believe there’s more waiting for them.

Naturally, science has more work to do to figure out what the old fossil bones are saying. NPR spoke to a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University who said as much.

In the meantime, I’ve come up with some questions of my own.

What would scientists far in the future find if they should somehow think the remains of my house important enough to excavate?

Would they run across my bones?

And if they did, would they think them a significant discovery?

I like to think so.

After all, they’d have to wonder why a Neanderthal was using a spoon to eat peanut butter in a recliner long after his species was supposed to be extinct.

My mom would be so proud.


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