IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


8th June, 2023 Geography

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  • A series of significant discoveries made by researchers regarding the behavior and characteristics of Homo naledi, an extinct archaic human species.


  • Researchers have discovered evidence of burial and symbolic behaviors in Homo naledi, an archaic human species.
  • These behaviors predate the earliest evidence of such practices in modern humans.
  • The brain size of Homo naledi was approximately one-third the size of a modern human brain.
  • The findings challenge previous assumptions that these behaviors were exclusive to larger-brained Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.
  • Three studies detailing the findings have been accepted for publication in the journal eLife.

Discovery of Homo Naledi:

  • Fossils of Homo naledi were first found in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa in 2013.
  • The cave system is part of South Africa's Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The extensive cave system has been explored by a team of researchers led by Dr. Lee Berger.
  • Homo naledi shared some characteristics with humans but had smaller heads, shorter stature, and different physical features.

Burial Practices of Homo Naledi:

  • Homo naledi remains, including adults and children, were found buried in the fetal position within cave depressions.
  • The burials are older than any known Homo sapiens burials by at least 100,000 years.
  • The burials indicate intentional burial practices by Homo naledi and challenge previous hypotheses.
  • Evidence of graves and intentional burials includes ovals dug into cave surfaces and bodies placed inside.
  • Horizontal burial sites dug into slopes further support deliberate burials.

Symbolic Carvings on Cave Walls:

  • Researchers discovered symbols engraved on cave walls in the same cave system.
  • The symbols, estimated to be between 241,000 and 335,000 years old, resemble geometric shapes and cross-hatchings.
  • Similar symbols were previously associated with early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.
  • The carvings indicate that Homo naledi engaged in symbolic and meaning-making activities.
  • The significance and purpose of the symbols are yet to be fully understood.

Challenges and Implications:

  • The discoveries challenge previous notions about the uniqueness of certain behaviors in humans.
  • Homo naledi's small brain size suggests that larger brains may not be the sole factor associated with complex behaviors.
  • The findings raise questions about the timing of fire use, meaning-making, and burial practices in human evolutionary history.
  • The implications of these findings extend to the reconstruction of human evolution.

Continuing Research:

  • The research team is further exploring Homo naledi to determine the species' age and its relationship to humans.
  • The work of Dr. Lee Berger and his team will be featured in a Netflix documentary and a book.
  • The team aims to understand the chronological proximity of Homo naledi to humans and the potential preservation of DNA in the fossils.

About Homo Naledi

  • Homo naledi, an extinct species of archaic humans, lived in southern Africa between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago.
  • Discovery made in 2013 in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa's Cradle of Humankind.

Physical Characteristics:

  • Small brain size, estimated to be about one-third the size of a modern human brain.
  • Mix of primitive and modern traits.
  • Human-like hands and feet, indicating complex manipulative abilities and upright walking.

Burial Behavior:

  • Homo naledi exhibited intentional disposal of their dead within the cave system.
  • Remains found in chamber-like structures, suggesting deliberate and repeated deposition.
  • Previously associated with larger-brained species like Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.

Symbolic Behavior:

  • Engraved symbols found on cave walls, estimated to be between 241,000 and 335,000 years old.
  • Symbols include hashtag-like cross-hatchings and geometric shapes.
  • Indicates engagement in meaning-making activities and challenges the uniqueness of symbolic behavior in larger-brained species.


Q. In the context of recent revelations regarding early human burial practices, it can be safely said that they have a sense of history and record keeping for future generations. Comment. (250 words)