In reviewing the Top 10 Discoveries of 2015, I would rate “A Human Relative” as THE best discovery for 2015. In the Rising Star cave system in South Africa, a discovery of hominin bones was made. Over 1500 specimens from at least 15 individuals were recovered. There is no mention of any cultural material being found with the remains. The remains were determined to be of a previously unknown species. The name given to this species is Homo naledi. Though the remains have not been able to be dated, it is believed Homo naledi lived around 2.5 million years ago. They are considered to likely be one of the first species in the Homo genus. It’s brain was tiny but it’s skull was humanlike.
I picked this as #1 due to my extreme interest in Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis). When Lucy was found in 1974, it was huge news. She was nearly 40% of a complete skeleton. It was quite a remarkable find. I even had the opportunity to see Lucy when she went “on the road” at an exhibit in Arizona a few years back. I had done some studying of her and have always been fascinated at her unique traits. Lucy was tiny, she was under four feet tall. Her bone structure suggested she spent as much time walking upright as she did in the trees. She would have been about 60 pounds and had a very small brain. She got her name when the Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was playing in the background after her discovery. That part of her story always makes me smile as well. I know more recent discoveries have filled in many more of the “gaps”, I still find her to be intriguing.
A close second choice for #1 would be “Earliest Stone Tools”. Stone tools found in West Turkana, Kenya predate the first known humans (to date). They are believed to date to 3.3 million years old. Stone tools have long believed to be a defining characteristic of the Homo species. This find is changing what we think about that distinction.
Overall, what struck me about all of the discoveries was their vast diversity. Everything from pretzels to a chariot found in a fifth century B.C. Celtic burial. I found the discovery of the liquid mercury in Teotihuacan, Mexico catching my interest as well. The fact that the mercury was thought to be part of a representation of the mythical underworld is fascinating to me.