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Science vs / Why Fossil Nerds Are Pissed Right Now | Science vs

Why Fossil Nerds Are Pissed Right Now | Science vs

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In this episode of the Science Vs podcast titled “Why Fossil Nerds Are Pissed Right Now,” the controversy surrounding the Netflix documentary “Unknown Cave of Bones” is explored. The documentary focuses on the recently discovered species Homo Naledi and the claims made in it about rewriting what it means to be human. The podcast delves into the scientific controversy, the central figure of the documentary, Lee Berger, and the fascinating discoveries made in the cave.

Main Takeaways

Controversy Surrounding the Documentary

  • The Netflix documentary “Unknown Cave of Bones” has caused controversy in the scientific community.
  • Some scientists are frustrated with the claims made in the documentary, leading to flame wars on social media and a scientific controversy.
  • The documentary’s central figure, Lee Berger, is no stranger to controversy and recently sent two fossil specimens into space for no scientific reason.

Discovery of Homo Naledi

  • The documentary focuses on the recently discovered species Homo Naledi, which is on our family tree.
  • The cave featured in the documentary, located in South Africa, is difficult to access and requires physical demands.
  • The Deniletti Chamber is where the action takes place in the documentary and is where the Homo Naledi species was discovered.
  • Homo Naledi is a newly discovered species of hominin, and the site is important due to the sheer volume of bones found there.

Behavior of Homo Naledi

  • Homo Naledi was found to be deliberately burying their dead, which was previously thought to be a behavior unique to humans with larger brains.
  • This challenges the idea of human exceptionalism and rewrites what we think a brain can do.
  • Naledi’s burial practices date back 240,000 years ago, which is much older than the oldest known human burial.
  • In addition to burial, Naledi was also found to be making art on the walls of the cave, which is 200,000 years earlier than the earliest known rock art.

Scientific Controversy and Criticisms

  • The scientific community was frustrated by the unconventional release of the pre-prints discussing the findings.
  • Independent experts who reviewed the pre-prints were not impressed with the evidence presented.
  • Some experts criticized Lee Berger’s methodology, saying he executed the methodologies incorrectly and failed to follow established micro morphological protocol.

Debates and Uncertainties

  • There is debate around whether Homo Naledi used fire in the cave system and whether the structural layout of the cave system is the same today as it was at the time of Naledi.
  • There is uncertainty about who made the survey markers found in the cave system.
  • It is difficult to accurately date rock art and attribute it to a specific group or individual.


The Controversial Documentary and Homo Naledi’s Discoveries

The Netflix documentary “Unknown Cave of Bones” has stirred controversy within the scientific community. The documentary focuses on the recently discovered species Homo Naledi found in a difficult-to-access cave in South Africa. Homo Naledi’s burial practices challenge previous notions of human exceptionalism, as they were found to deliberately bury their dead. Additionally, the discovery of rock art made by Naledi raises questions about the origins of culture and the connection between brain size and cultural practices. However, the scientific community has expressed frustration with the documentary’s claims and the unconventional release of pre-prints discussing the findings. Critics have raised concerns about the methodology used by Lee Berger and the lack of compelling evidence. Debates and uncertainties surround the use of fire by Naledi and the attribution of rock art to specific individuals or groups. Despite the controversy, the discoveries made in the cave shed light on the complex behaviors and capabilities of our ancient ancestors.


The controversy surrounding the Netflix documentary “Unknown Cave of Bones” and the discoveries of Homo Naledi highlight the ongoing debates and uncertainties in the field of paleoanthropology. While the findings challenge previous notions of human exceptionalism and provide intriguing insights into our ancient ancestors’ behaviors, the scientific community emphasizes the need for rigorous evidence and methodology. As our understanding of human origins continues to evolve, it is crucial to approach new discoveries with skepticism and a commitment to scientific rigor.

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