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“There's a potential that we are looking at some kind of rudimentary cultural practice associated with this widely shared emotion of grief,” said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who helped lead the Rising Star expedition.

She said it is possible they dropped the bodies into the caverns through an opening that has long since closed.

She noted that no artifacts were found with the caverns that might indicate how to interpret the remains.

The bones are as recent as 236,000 years, meaning Homo naledi roamed Africa at about the time our own species was evolving.

What they found astonished the paleoanthropology community — not only had a new species been discovered but, with 15 skeletons, it was suddenly the best-documented species in the history of hominins.

“The past was a lot more complicated than we gave it credit for and our ancestors were a lot more resilient and lot more varied than we give them credit for,” said Susan Anton, a pnot the pinnacle of everything that happened in the past.

We just happen to be the thing that survived.” Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, said finds like this should prompt people to discard the familiar image of a stooped chimp evolving into a modern human walking upright and carrying a briefcase.

She also questioned whether the cave was really as difficult to access in the past as it is today.