Changing Planet

Second Cave Chamber Reveals Spectacular New Homo Naledi Skull and More

The first fossils of Homo naledi, discovered in 2013 and described as a new species of hominin in 2015, have just been dated to coming from only 236,000 to 335,000 years ago—close to the origins of our own species. (Read: Did This Mysterious Ape-Human Once Live Alongside Our Ancestors?)

What does it mean for prevailing models of the human family tree? And what about the contentious idea that they intentionally disposed of their dead deep in caves?

New papers published today in ELife by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger and team shed new light on this mysterious member of our family. They also reveal that a second chamber contains the remains of at least three more individuals, including the most complete Homo naledi skull yet found (seen above).

Dig in to the discovery for yourself with the open-access papers, complete with photos of the fossils, cave diagrams, and more detailed information to sink your own perfectly adapted teeth into:

The age of Homo naledi and associated sediments in the Rising Star Cave, South Africa

New fossil remains of Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber, South Africa

Homo naledi and Pleistocene hominin evolution in subequatorial Africa



Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • Richard Bronson

    Is it possible that the caves represent an early primal settlement; not necessarily one by design but a spontaneous occurrence for various subsistence advantages.
    Does disposing of bodies represent primal spiritualism? Is spiritualism a survival strategy? Is it hard wired… something that allows us to cope with the unknown; an embedded system that allows us to believe we will be safe as we move forward over the next mountain, up the Danube and into western Europe? My apologies if these questions are beyond scientific purview but Göbekli Tepe suggest that spiritualism was practiced while we were only mobile. It is easy enough to come up with examples of spiritual practice. Defining or understanding what it actually is has always been elusive.

  • Jeff

    So these folks likely witnessed the creation of the Tswaing crater some 50km north west of the cave. Wonder if the males are Haplogroup A?

  • Jeff

    Sorry, I meant to say “… Tswaing crater some 50km north east of the cave.” Anyway, that meteor was large enough that a layer of dust was perhaps left in the cave!

  • marc verhaegen

    Naledi is a fantastic find, but there’s nothing human in it: all its humanlike traits are primitive for Homo & Pan, e.g. prenatal chimps have humanlike feet which near birth become handlike (C.Coon).
    There was no deliberate burial: naledi fossilised naturally: they lived in swamp forests, wading bipedally in forest swamps (flat feet as in wading & swimming birds & mammals, not adapted to fast running) & climbing vertically in the branches above (curved hand-bones).
    Google e.g. “Pan naledi 2017” & “bonobo wading”.

  • britelad

    I have seen the Nova special on Naledi and read some of the internet blogs. I find the subject very interesting.

    Yet, I have several questions. Has the cave complex changed since that time? Was access to the inner reaches of the cave easier in that time? If the configuration of the cave has not changed in all that time, how would living Naledi beings navigate the dangerous passages without some sort of light or some guide to be able to return? Did the Naledi rely on a hyper-sense of smell or touch to navigate that far and return safely? I did not hear any mention of smoke or fire evidence.

    Entry to the cave complex is rather difficult for modern humans. How would early hominids be able to enter such a complex world without some type of marker to be able to return. I find that concept very curious.

    What predators would have been in that area during that time? Was the practice of hiding cadavers meant to keep predators from entering the Naledi territory, which would suggest some cognitive ability to engage in sophisticated self-preservation reasoning practices.
    Is there any evidence of other settlements of early hominids that might suggest that bands of Naledi may have traveled through the areas? Are the researchers searching to see if other sites may be present?

    Has a DNA analysis been done on the Naledi specimens from the cave complex? What are the genetic markers that may intersect with or lead to Sapiens?

    Thank you for this interesting discovery.


  • Dhayas

    Came across below video, surprised and unbelievable about this 2 mens who has face and structure of ancisestors.

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