Homo Naledi Burial. Image Credit: Lee Berger

Homo naledi burials with carved symbols from 300,000 years ago

Journey back in time to the enigmatic world of Homo naledi, a captivating ancient human species. Prepare to be astonished as we uncover groundbreaking revelations of their revolutionary behavioral practices that unfolded approximately 300,000 years ago in the mesmerizing landscapes of southern Africa. Delve into the depths of cave systems where Homo naledi engaged in awe-inspiring activities, transcending their era by burying their deceased kin and etching mystical symbols that still bewilder us today.


Papers recently published assert that Homo naledi, an ancient human species, made revolutionary strides in behavioral practices about 300,000 years ago in southern Africa. These remarkable activities included the burial of their dead and etching symbols deep within cave systems.

If these revolutionary claims hold water, they will upend our understanding of human belief, culture, and evolution of symbolism. However, doubts persist regarding the validity of the evidence.


Homo Naledi burials with carved symbols from 300,000 years ago

The journey to these groundbreaking discoveries began in 2013 in South Africa. Cavers delving deep into an almost inaccessible chamber within the Rising Star cave system stumbled upon a remarkable find.

Scattered on the cavern floor were approximately 1,500 fossil bones seeming to belong to a human species. Closer inspection revealed something even more extraordinary: these fossils belonged to nearly 15 individuals of an entirely new species of 300,000-year-old human, Homo naledi.

A mysterious combination of human features

This new human species revealed an intriguing mix of characteristics. Their feet, hands, and wrists resembled those of modern humans and Neanderthals, while their upper body and brain size were akin to the pre-human australopithecine species.

This perplexing mix of human and pre-human traits has fueled a debate on Homo naledi’s rightful place in the evolutionary tree: Are they more akin to our species or our ape-like ancestors?

Provocative evidence of culture in Homo naledi

Concurrent with the species debate, the issue of Homo naledi’s behavior has emerged. The discovery of the remains deep within the cave system suggests that they were purposefully placed there by fellow members of the species. This finding hints at human-like culture, provoking a multitude of questions regarding the species’ behavior.


Despite some criticisms of this theory, the lack of alternative evidence is striking. According to Professor Chris Stringer, a renowned human evolution expert uninvolved with the study, the probability leans towards Homo naledi intentionally placing these bodies in the cave.

Intriguing evidence of burial and art

Recent research papers suggest that Homo naledi intentionally placed the bodies inside the cave and buried some remains in shallow holes. Furthermore, researchers believe that markings on the cave walls might be engravings by the ancient humans.

If these claims prove accurate, it would portray the species as more complex, possibly implying extraordinary truths about our own kind.

Debating the concept of burial

The definition of burial is surprisingly fluid. A burial generally refers to a specially created space, often a hole excavated in the soil, where a body is placed before covering. However, a grey area exists regarding practices known as “funerary caching,” where natural depressions, like caves or ditches, are used to place the remains.

If this action is validated as a burial, it will become the oldest human burial ever discovered at 300,000 years old. This would also imply that ancient hominins were more organized and potentially had culture passed down through generations.

Could Homo naledi have been an ancient artist?

In addition to burial practices, patterns of engraved lines adorn the walls of one of the caves. While currently impossible to date, researchers hypothesize that Homo naledi, the only species found in the caves, most likely created these engravings.

Dr. Lee Berger, who has led the Rising Star cave system excavations, states that these recent findings indicate a probable complexity in Homo naledi’s practices relating to death.


Implications for understanding human evolution

Regardless of the new revelations’ details, these findings provide a valuable starting point for deeper questions about ancient hominin behavior.

However, these discoveries also start unraveling other aspects of our own evolution and what it fundamentally means to be human. Chris explains, “To have this level of complex behavior with an ape-sized brain is very challenging.” These challenges raise many questions, currently without definitive answers.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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