A reconstruction of the head of Homo naledi by paleoartist John Gurche, who spent some 700 hours recreating the head from bone scans.  The discovery was announced by the University of the Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society and the South African National Research Foundation and published in the journal eLife.  Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic
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Discoveries in the Cradle of Humankind limestone caves in South Africa are changing the way scientists understand human evolution.

The cave system, about half an hour’s drive northwest of Johannesburg, is where the first fossils of previously unknown human relatives were discovered.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site contains many hominid fossils and tools. But two textbook-altering discoveries wouldn’t have happened without a dose of chance.

Nine-year-old Matthew Berger accidentally found Australopithecus sediba – considered a ‘missing link’ in human history – in 2008 when he stopped to study a rock he had tripped on while he was chased his dog near the collapsed cave of Malapa.

And Homo naledi was added to the family tree in 2013 after cave explorers informed researchers that there might be something promising in the dangerous depths of the Rising Star cave system.

Now the ancient cave has revealed a few more secrets that could rewrite our understanding of what it means to be human.

A reconstruction of the head of Homo naledi by paleoartist John Gurche, who spent some 700 hours recreating the head from bone scans.  The discovery was announced by the University of the Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society and the South African National Research Foundation and published in the journal eLife.  Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

A team of explorers has uncovered evidence that Homo naledi buried his dead and carved symbols on cave walls at least 100,000 years before modern humans.

Intentional burials of adults and children of H. naledi have been found in the sprawling depths of the Rising Star cave system.

On the walls above the burials, the team also spotted symbols carved deep into hard rock, showcasing crosses, hashtag-like symbols and other geometric shapes.

This is the first time that such significant behaviors have been observed in a non-human species. H. naledi had a brain about a third the size of a human, leading scientists to wonder if Homo sapiens is truly exceptional for having such large brains.

Meanwhile, researchers in Spain have used drones to see hard-to-reach prehistoric cave paintings for the first time.

Nine felines with names inspired by former American first ladies are helping scientists test a new kind of contraception for cats. Long-lasting injections could be used to curb the overpopulation of feral cats.

Scientists tested the injections on some of the cats, which live in a colony at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, after isolating a hormone that prevented ovulation. The six cats that received the injections did not become pregnant, even after being around male cats.

But it may be years before the procedure is available, so don’t ask your vet just yet.

Astronomers using the Webb Telescope have discovered evidence of complex organic molecules similar to smoke or smog in the distant galaxy pictured here.  The galaxy, over 12 billion light-years away, aligns almost perfectly with a second galaxy just three billion light-years from our vantage point on Earth.  In this false-color Webb image, the foreground galaxy is shown in blue, while the background galaxy is in red.  Organic molecules are highlighted in orange.

The James Webb Space Telescope has peered into a galaxy more than 12 billion light-years away and spotted the most distant organic molecules ever detected.

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The complex molecules can be found in smoke and soot on Earth, but in space they have an entirely different meaning that could help astronomers understand the universe’s earliest galaxies.

As seen above, the space observatory was able to observe the galaxy (red) as it aligned almost perfectly with a closer foreground galaxy (blue), creating an “Einstein ring”. Molecules appear in orange.

The telescope also witnessed the formation of the first stars in a galaxy 20 million light-years away.

Meanwhile, the Parker Solar Probe has flown close enough to the sun to spot where and how the solar wind forms, and NASA’s Psyche mission is back on track to launch on an all-metal asteroid in October.

Fossils of a previously unknown cousin of the duck-billed dinosaurs found in Utah offer a rare glimpse into the creatures’ lives as the planet began to change 100 million years ago.

The herbivorous dinosaur belonged to a group called ornithopods, which were common throughout North America until the Jurassic Period 201.3 million to 145 million years ago. But their populations dwindled and disappeared as the planet warmed.

The dino, named Iani smithi in honor of the two-faced Janus, the Roman god of transitions, shows that some species managed to survive as air temperatures rose and sea levels shifted, and researchers aim to unlock the secret of its success.

Wreck D_South part seen from the north

Several shipwrecks have been discovered in the Mediterranean Sea by an international team of underwater archaeologists from eight countries. The results of the 2022 research expedition were shared at a UNESCO press conference on Thursday.

The team used remotely operated underwater vehicles, called ROVs, to explore the seabed along the Tunisian and Italian coasts.

The robots have traversed the treacherous waters of Tunisia’s Skerki Bank, where jagged rocks rise from the shallow sea and have sunk ships for more than 3,000 years.

Sonar revealed three previously unknown wrecks, including an old merchant ship. The team also captured new high-resolution images of ceramic-laden Roman shipwrecks.

Explore these fascinating new discoveries:

– A crocodile named Coquita living alone for years in a Costa Rican zoo has just experienced a virgin birth – and the crocodile isn’t the only creature in the animal kingdom capable of this survival strategy.

— Dozens of Roman tweezers have been discovered in Britain, revealing the ancient culture’s obsession with hairlessness and good grooming.

— A bright new supernova has appeared in the Pinwheel galaxy, and a telescope in Hawaii has captured a dazzling image of the stellar explosion.

Do you like what you read? Oh, but there’s more. register here to get the next edition of Wonder Theory, brought to you by the editors of CNN Space and Science, delivered to your inbox Ashley Strickland And Katy Hunt. They marvel at planets beyond our solar system and discoveries from the ancient world.

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