One of the most sur­pris­ing parts of the Ris­ing Star Cave dis­cov­ery was where the bones were found. The Dinale­di Cham­ber is far from every known entrance to the cave. The cham­ber con­tains no oth­er ani­mal bones, indi­cat­ing that oth­er species did not use this deep cham­ber. So, how did 15 Homo nale­di indi­vid­u­als — from babies to elder­ly — end up in this small under­ground room? Did they also use the nar­row, dan­ger­ous entrance that the sci­en­tists use today?

Layout Jh

Homo nale­di

The bones have no bite marks or scratch­es, show­ing that no preda­tor dragged them into the cham­ber for a meal. The tiny par­ti­cles of clay and mud around the bones are also very dif­fer­ent from those found in near­by cham­bers like the Dragon’s Back, mean­ing that water did not wash the bones in. The hard, chert roof of the cham­ber also has no open­ings that would let ani­mals or hominins acci­den­tal­ly fall in from the ground above.

After care­ful­ly exclud­ing these and oth­er expla­na­tions, the sci­en­tif­ic team favoured a sur­pris­ing hypoth­e­sis: Homo nale­di must have car­ried or pushed the bod­ies into the same nar­row Chute that sci­en­tists use to enter the Dinale­di Cham­ber today.

But why were these small-brained hominins going to such trou­ble and risk to leave their dead so deep in this dif­fi­cult cave? Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the evi­dence may tell us how the bones got there but sci­en­tists may nev­er know exact­ly why.