If there’s one thing science has unequivocally proven again and again, it’s that no matter how much we think we know about our world’s vibrant history, there’s always a lot more to discover. The prime example of this is actually the 2013 finding of an extinct archaic human species named Homo Naledi in the Rising Star Cave of South Africa, as profiled in Netflix’s ‘Cave of Bones.’ So now, if you simply wish to learn more about the same — with a specific focus on whether they really even existed or not as well as the surrounding evidence — we’ve got the details for you.
Did the Homo Naledi Species Really Exist?
It was on September 13, 2013, when two underground experts exploring the Rising Star Cave system paleoanthropological site uncovered a previously unknown, remote chamber deep within. This spot has since been deemed the Dinaledi Chamber, yet the more integral aspect is that its floor was completely littered with what seemed to be extremely deteriorated human-like bones. The duo thus penned a meticulous report to a colleague, only for renowned paleoanthropologist Lee Berger to soon enter the picture owing to the intriguing depiction of the overall enclosure.
Dr. Lee was reportedly the first to realize the importance of this discovery, driving him to lead an excavation in mere months before bringing together a global team of scientists to study these fossils. There were at least 1550 fossils recovered in the initial months, and their characteristics, plus the cave’s standing alone, drove the September 2015 announcement of Homo Naledi as a whole new species. The experts admittedly reached this conclusion upon recognizing that while these bones represented 15 individuals showing ancestral traits, none matched with any particular known species altogether.
“Across the skeletons, there were some features that were unusually close to modern humans,” paleoanthropologist John Hawks candidly expressed in the original Netflix ‘Unkown’ production. “And other features that looked like some of the earliest hominins. Bone after bone, each of them was telling us something different. Initially, we thought, ‘Are there two different kinds of things here? Are there three different kinds of things here?’ Because it’s a mixture of features we didn’t expect to find together. But as we found more and more bones, we saw they’re all consistent, but they’re all a pattern we hadn’t seen before. That’s what led us to name it a new species.”
The fact radiocarbon as well as uranium-thorium dating put these excavated remains right in the Middle Pleistocene Homo age of 335,000–236,000 years ago is also proof of it being new. Coming to the Homo Naledis’ physical features, while it’s virtually impossible to know for certain what they looked like, their bones and the Rising Star Cave did give specialists a partial insight. According to them, they walked on two legs yet not like humans owing to their much longer limbs, had flat noses similar to that of an ape, and had human-like teeth set in a forward sticking jaw.
Moreover, the Homo Naledi had a brow ridge covering both their eyes; eyes that would likely show more than we can even imagine as they have been found to be quite emotionally mature. For the first time in history, scientists uncovered the fact an extinct species also buried their dead as we do — they cared enough to have a ritual of saying a final goodbye to their lost ones. Moreover, with traces of fire and tools made from stone (one was actually placed in the hands of a buried child, per experts, as seen below), it’s clear that even though they had brains ⅓rd the side of hours and a lifestyle of tree climbing, they also had cognitive abilities.
With these intentional burials, alleged carvings on the walls, use of fire, as well as other aspects still being carefully studied, the “Homo Naledi tells us we’re not that special,” Georgia-born Johannesburg-based paleoanthropologist Lee Berger once said. The ‘Cave of Bones: A True Story of Discovery, Adventure, and Human Origins’ co-author (alongside John Hawks) added, “We ain’t gonna get over that.” In other words, yes, the Homo Naledis really did roam this Earth more than 200,000 years ago, and they even did a lot of things we modern humans currently do without having nearly as many resources.