September 28, 2023

Why Fossil Nerds Are Pissed Right Now

by Science Vs

Background show artwork for Science Vs

The smash hit Netflix documentary “Unknown: Cave of Bones” has kicked off an all-out science brawl. The film makes extraordinary claims about a strange ape-like creature that lived hundreds of thousands of years ago — claims that rewrite what it means to be human. But some scientists are pushing back, saying that at this point, these extraordinary claims aren’t backed up by extraordinary evidence. So, what’s going on? Is “Cave of Bones” a Cave of Lies? We chat to the man at the center of the controversy, National Geographic Explorer In Residence Lee Berger, as well as a couple of the scientists pushing back against his work: Professor Andy Herries and Associate Professor Jamie Hodgkins.

Find our transcript here: 


In this episode, we cover:

(00:00) ‘Cave of Bones’ is a hit!

(02:55) Lee Berger, Explorer in Residence

(07:10) Meet Homo naledi

(14:09) Extraordinary claims

(20:54) The media campaign and the backlash

(25:16) The evidence for burial

(32:00) The evidence for rock art

(40:54) Cave of Insufficient Evidence?

This episode was produced by Joel Werner, with help from Wendy Zukerman, Michelle Dang, Rose Rimler, and Nick DelRose. We’re edited by Blythe Terrell. Fact checking by Diane Kelly. Mix and sound design by Bumi Hidaka. Music written by Bobby Lord, Emma Munger, Peter Leonard, So Wylie, and Bumi Hidaka. Thanks to all the researchers we spoke to including Dr Bridget Alex, Professor Michael Petraglia, Dr Kimberly Foecke, Dr Sven Ouzman, Dr Elizabeth Grace Veatch, Dr Flint Dibble, Professor Tim White, and Professor Bernard Wood. And a big thank you to Lindsey Cherner, Jill Harris, Jack Weinstein, Katie Vines, the Zukerman Family and Joseph Lavelle Wilson.