Science is awesome. I love the way that we continue to rediscover and reinterpret what it means to be human based on archaeology and scientific theories.

Using an unparalleled range of tests, experts are investigating whether a group of ‘ape-men’ succeeded in creating a complex human-like culture - potentially thousands of years before our own species, Homo sapiens, managed to do so.

Adding to the mystery is the fact that the now long-extinct species behaved in several key ways like modern humans - and yet appears to have been able to do that with brains which were only a third the size of ours.

The evidence assembled so far is beginning to suggest that these small-brained ‘ape-men’ may have been able to do seven remarkable things:

  • Envisage an afterlife (in other words, a belief that some form of existence continues beyond death).
  • Believe that an afterlife occurs in some sort of ‘underworld’, located beneath (rather than on or above) the world of the living. That implies that they may have developed some very embryonic sense of cosmology.
  • Conceive the idea of physically burying their dead - in that ‘underworld’.
  • Give grave goods to dead members of their community - an apparent act that implies that they may have believed that the dead would somehow be able to use them in an afterlife.
  • Carry out potential rituals - specifically funerary meals - inside their ‘underworld’.
  • Create rudimentary art (abstract designs) around the entrance to at least one of the burial chambers in that ‘underworld’.
  • Plan some sort of relatively complex lighting system (either a succession of small fires and/or torches) to enable them to penetrate their ‘underworld’ and take their dead there.

“We know that what we’re discovering breaks totally new ground - and is therefore likely to be controversial. That’s why we are deploying every possible type of investigative technology to ensure that the maximum amount of additional evidence can be found,” said the leader of the Rising Star Cave investigation, National Geographic and University of Witwatersrand palaeoanthropologist, Professor Lee Berger, who with co-investigator, human evolution expert Professor John Hawks, has just published a detailed National Geographic book on the discoveries, entitled Cave of Bones.

Source: Scientific discovery casts doubt on our understanding of human evolution | The Independent