New twist in the controversy surrounding Homo Naledi, the humanoid who buried his dead

The hypothesis in question was the subject of two articles, published on June 5, 2023 on the preprint server bioRxiv, and is now the subject of a National Geographic documentary. However, the paleoanthropologist community is always sounding the alarm: these claims are not reliable, or even very credible. A new analysis of this work from June 2023 has just been published in the journal Journal of Human Evolutionand highlights several limitations.

Data considered unverifiable due to the inaccessibility of the cave

Homo Naledi is a small-brained hominid, so Berger and his team’s claims were a real reversal of everything we thought we knew about our species. To suggest that such a ‘primitive’ species would have had such a level of intelligence and consciousness requires thorough verification. The outrage from Berger’s colleagues pointed to the opposite, and this is what this recent publication from Spanish, American and South African researchers claims.

Caption: In this video, Lee Berger is interviewed by CNN journalists. He presents his discovery. / Video credit: CNN

The authors criticize, among other things, the conclusions of Lee Berger and his team: the inaccessibility of the cave in which Berger discovered the petroglyphs and the remains of the hominids he called “Homo Naledi”. The South African cave, with a very narrow entrance, is very dangerous and even required significant weight loss on Berger’s part to enter. He came out seriously injured. The inaccessibility of the Homo Naledi bones prevented other researchers from accessing the site and verifying Berger’s findings, and the team Rising star (founded by the latter) would not have invited any external expert to analyze their evidence.

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No evidence that the remains of Homo Naledi were deposited by natural elements

In addition to the fact that their conclusions were widely disseminated before they were even peer-reviewed, the trio of international paleontologists, authors of the recent paper, regret that their counterparts have not made sufficient use of the disciplinary practices that allow other potential displace sources. explanations for the accumulation of the 15 skeletons found in the cave Rising star.

Video credit: Wits University

The November 10 article specifically mentions the work of other researchers who put forward geological, taphonomic and paleontological explanations suggesting that natural formation scenarios could explain skeletal accumulations, such as a natural death trap, water transport or even carnivore activity.

IFLScience passes on an analogy on the part of those authors who would like to do so “If you want to scientifically prove that your house was built by aliens, you must first address the most likely scenario – in this case, that it was built by humans – and completely disprove it before moving forward with your alternative hypothesis.”

In short, Berger’s colleagues believe that the evidence presented thus far is not sufficiently compelling to support the intentional burial of the dead by Homo Naledi.

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There is no evidence that Homo Naledi produced the petroglyphs found

María Martinón-Torres, Diego Garate, Andy IR Herries, and Michael D. Petraglia go further to point out that there is also nothing to confirm that the alleged carvings or wall marks are the work of Homo Naledi.

It is believed that the marks made in three places on the dolomite walls, described as deep crosshatching and other shapes, were prepared and smoothed using blows from a heavy object. However, according to them, no precise technique was used to date these marks. Failure to date the inscriptions accurately would disqualify any attribution of these markings to the species that lived 236,000 to 335,000 years ago.


María Martinón-Torres, Diego Garate, Andy IR Herries, Michael D. Petraglia,

No scientific evidence that Homo naledi buried their dead and produced petroglyphs,

Journal of Human Evolution2023, 103464, ISSN 0047-2484,

Burials and engravings in a small-brained hominin, Homo naledi, from the late Pleistocene: contexts and evolutionary implications, Agustin Fuentes, Marc Kissel, Penny Spikins, Keneiloe Molopyane, John Hawks, Lee R. Berger, bioRxiv 2023.06.01.543135; doi:

Evidence for deliberate burial of the dead by Homo naledi

Lee R. Berger, et al. bioRxiv, 2023.06.01.543127; doi:


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