IN 2015, ANCIENT human remains were found in Rising Star cave, 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. The discovery, excavated by Lee Berger and his team,  included numerous skeletons and very well preserved skulls from a Homo naledi. Now, another 130 fossils have been located in a chute 100m away from the 2015 site. H. naledi was previously though to have lived between 300,000 and 200,000 years old but the new findings predict that they lived between 236,000 and 335,000 years ago. Therefore, the H. naledi could have interacted with the earliest H. sapiens. 

Amongst the 1,550 specimens are a hand, a near complete foot and bones from juveniles, adults and infants with a striking combination of human and non-humanlike features yet the estimation that they lived 300,000 years ago is odd considering they still retain primitive characteristics seen over 2 million years ago. However, their anatomy dictates they lie somewhere around the origin of the Homo genus.

The fact their remains were found in a cave suggests they were deliberately placed there, surprising activity from a humanoid with a brain that is 1/3 the size of H. sapiens. Also, no fauna specimens were recovered from the site, albeit a few bird bones found on the surface, which suggested the individuals weren’t living there as there were also no tools. There were no tooth marks on the bones from carnivorous animals dragging them there, a distribution and pile up of bones over centuries and no other stones or debris from water txt could have washed them into the cave. There appeared to be no other option other than purposeful body disposal.

It turned out dating the specimens would be just as hard as why they were found there. Normally it is a matter of carbon dating the layers of volcanic ash around the specimen but they remains of H. naledi were found in mixed sediments on floor. Instead, H. naledi was dated based on morphology, making it possibly the root of the homo family tree.

However, if H. naledi proved to be younger than its estimated 300,000 years, it could mean H. naledi, a ‘primitive’ species was around as we were evolving!



  • National Geographic-
  • World Archaeology Magazine #83
  • BBC News