Palaeontologists in South Africa said they have found the oldest-known burial site in the world, containing remains of a small-brained distant relative of humans previously thought incapable of complex behaviour.
Led by renowned palaeoanthropologist Lee Berger, researchers said on Monday that they discovered several specimens of Homo naledi – a tree-climbing, Stone Age hominid – buried about 30 metres (100 feet) underground in a cave system within the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Johannesburg.
“These are the most ancient interments yet recorded in the hominin record, earlier than evidence of Homo sapiens interments by at least 100,000 years,” the scientists wrote in a series of yet-to-be-peer-reviewed and pre-print papers to be published in eLife.
The findings challenge the current understanding of human evolution, as it is normally held that the development of bigger brains allowed for the performing of complex, “meaning-making” activities such as burying the dead.
The oldest burials previously unearthed, found in the Middle East and Africa, contained the remains of Homo sapiens – and were around 100,000 years old.
Those found in South Africa by the research team led by Berger, whose previous announcements have been controversial, date back to at least 200,000 BC.
“Homo naledi tells us we’re not that special,” Berger, a United States-born explorer, told AFP news agency. “We ain’t gonna get over that.”
Homo naledi, a primitive species at the crossroads between apes and modern humans, had brains about the size of oranges and stood about 1.5m (5 feet) tall.
With curved fingers and toes, tool-wielding hands and feet made for walking, Homo naledi was discovered in 2013 by Berger, helping upend the notion that our evolutionary path was a straight line.
The species is named after the “Rising Star” cave system where the first bones were found in 2013. The oval-shaped interments at the centre of the new studies were also found there during excavations started in 2018.
The holes, which researchers say evidence suggest were deliberately dug and then filled in to cover the bodies, contain at least five individuals.
“These discoveries show that mortuary practices were not limited to H. sapiens or other hominins with large brain sizes,” the researchers said.
The burial site is not the only sign that Homo naledi was capable of complex emotional and cognitive behaviour, they added.
Berger’s earlier discoveries won the interest of National Geographic, which named him “explorer in residence” and featured his work in television shows and documentaries.
The latest research has not been peer-reviewed yet and some outside scientists think more evidence is needed to challenge what we know about how humans evolved their complex thinking.
“There’s still a lot to uncover,” said Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program, who was not involved in the research.
(Aljazeera / News Agencies)
US House passes stopgap measure to avert government shutdown
The US House of Representatives on Saturday approved a temporary funding bill, in a major step towards avoiding a government shutdown hours before current funding was slated to expire.
The House voted 335-91 to fund the government for another 45 days, with more Democrats (209) than Republicans (126) supporting it.
The measure would extend government funding by 45 days if it passes the Democratic-majority Senate and is signed into law by Democratic President Joe Biden before 12:01am (04:01 GMT) deadline on Sunday.
The move marked a profound shift from earlier in the week when a shutdown looked all but inevitable. Democrats overwhelmingly backed the 11th-hour Republican measure to keep federal funding going, albeit with a freeze on Washington’s massive aid to Ukraine.
The stopgap measure was pitched by Speaker Kevin McCarthy with just hours to go before a midnight shutdown deadline that would have seen millions of federal employees and military personnel sent home or required to work without pay.
Maldives opposition candidate Muizzu projected to win presidential run-off
Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has conceded defeat in a presidential run-off vote after an official count showed his rival Mohamed Muizzu in an impenetrable lead.
“Congratulations to president-elect Muizzu,” Solih wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, after the Elections Commission of the Maldives showed his opponent winning 54 percent of ballots on Saturday. “Thank you for the beautiful democratic example shown by the people in the elections,” he added. Official results are expected later today.
Muizzu, 45, emerged as the surprise fore runner during the first round of voting on September 8, taking some 46 percent of the ballots cast. Solih – hurt by a low voter turnout and a split within his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – won 39 percent.
The run-off was seen as having significant implications for the Maldives’s foreign policy, especially in deciding China and India’s battle for influence in the strategically located archipelago.
“Today’s result is a reflection of the patriotism of our people. A call on all our neighbours and bilateral partners to fully respect our independence and sovereignty,” a top official of Muizzu’s Progressive Party of Maldives, Mohamed Shareef, said according to the Associated Press news agency.
He told the news agency that it was also a mandate for Muizzu to resurrect the economy and the release of People’s National Congress party leader and former President Abdulla Yameen from prison.
Yameen is serving a prison term for corruption and money laundering, but his supporters say he has been jailed for political reasons. Muizzu had served as the housing minister for seven years and is currently the mayor of the capital Male.
Watchdog group Transparency Maldives said there had been some incidents of “electoral violence,” without specifying further details.
There were more than 282,000 eligible voters and turnout was 78 percent an hour before the polling stations closed.
Government shutdown only hours away in the US
A new vote is being held in the US House of Representatives among indications of a government shutdown beginning at midnight on Saturday.
Faced with a rebellion by fellow hard-line Republicans, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to secure agreement on a temporary 45-day respite. It’s not clear if the measure – stripped aid to Ukraine – will pass.
The fourth shutdown to occur over the past decade, it could affect everything from air travel to marriage licenses. Most government employees will be furloughed without pay, and crucial nutrition programmes will be halted.
It follows a hard-right revolt in the US House of Representatives. Republicans control the House by a slim majority, while Democrats hold the Senate by a single seat.
That means spending bills to keep the government open require buy-in from both parties in order to advance through both chambers to President Joe Biden’s desk.
On Saturday morning, Speaker McCarthy said he would put a 45-day continuing resolution (CR) plan to the floor – a stop-gap would keep federal agencies open until Congress can agree on a new funding bill.
The CR would include disaster relief funding, but would not include US foreign aid for Ukraine, which Democrats have been insisting on.
A rebel faction of right-wing Republicans has, so far, held up negotiations in the House, the lower congressional chamber, with a demand for significant cuts in spending, including a call for no more US funding of the war in Ukraine.
Receiving vocal support online from former President Donald Trump, the hard-liners have tanked efforts by Mr McCarthy to shepherd legislation needed to break the impasse through the House.
While the Speaker could ostensibly turn to Democrats for the votes he would need to approve a spending measure, it is a move that would likely trigger an effort by the rebel faction to oust him from his plum leadership post. McCarthy has also refused to take up a short-term funding bill making its way through the Senate. The bill, which includes $6bn (£4.9bn) for Ukraine and $6bn for disaster aid, is a last-ditch effort to avert a lengthy shutdown and appears to have strong bipartisan support in the upper chamber.
On Friday, House Republicans’ short-term funding measure, which included strict border policies championed by the hardliners, was rejected by as many as 21 members of the party and failed to pass.
In a closed-door meeting, Mr McCarthy said that Republicans would have to opt for the House bill or the Senate’s version, or risk being blamed for a shutdown. But the rebel lawmakers asserted they would not budge for anything less than a long-term spending bill with their priorities addressed. “This take it or leave it or I’ll blame you won’t work on us,” South Carolina Congresswoman Nancy Mace, a moderate who voted against the House bill on Friday, wrote on X. “I’m in this for the long run and have no problem taking on DC to do it.”
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader, slammed Mr McCarthy for bringing up “truly radical” proposal that could not make it through both chambers. “The Speaker needs to abandon his doomed mission of trying to please Republican extremists,” he said. The White House backed Mr Schumer’s calls for the House to get behind his spending bill.
“The path forward to fund the government has been laid out by the Senate with bipartisan support – House Republicans just need to take it,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wrote in a statement on Friday.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said: “The failure of House Republicans to act responsibly would hurt American families and cause economic headwinds that could undermine the progress we’re making.” Ms Yellen warned that “key government functions”, including loans to farmers and small businesses, food and workplace safety inspections, and major infrastructure improvements would all be affected.
Shutdowns take place when Congress is unable to approve the roughly 30% of the federal budget it must approve before the start of each fiscal year on 1 October.
This means that, on Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal workers except those deemed “essential” will be at home without pay. Many of these employees live paycheque to paycheque, according to the American Federation of Government Employees.
More than 1.4 million active-duty members of the military and tens of thousands of air traffic controllers will be among those working, without pay.
It is a troubling development for any federal workers holding student loan debt. Loan repayments for over 40 million people will restart on Sunday after being paused since the start of the pandemic.
The shutdown will also have an immediate impact on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides grocery assistance to seven million pregnant women and new mothers.
A prolonged shutdown could also affect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a grocery benefit known as “food stamps” that serves 40 million low-income Americans, and hinder the implementation of a new programme to serve free breakfast and lunch to students in high-need school districts.
Museums, national parks, research facilities and communities health centres with federal government oversight or funding are likely to suspend operations for the period of the shutdown.
Additionally, the government agency at the helm of relief and recovery from natural disasters is currently scrambling to conserve cash in the event a shutdown collides with an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season.
Budget disputes that cause this kind of disruption do not occur anywhere else in the world and has been criticised as an example of Washington’s growing dysfunction and partisan divides.
The last government shutdown, under Mr Trump in 2019, lasted a record 34 days.
It erased $11bn in economic output, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and federal workers were seen standing in line at food banks.
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