Editor’s Note: This story was initially published with the title “Team including Princeton anthropologist makes groundbreaking discovery on early human burial practices.” This story has been significantly updated with new information from the peer reviews revealed publicly shortly before initial publication. The original text can be found here.
A couple of embers of our team watched this streamed documentary and were struck by the questions raised by the peer reviewers of this work. This story highlights the perils of ‘sensational’ and ‘disruptive’ results to the mass media prior to thoughtful and expert peer review.
The team also announced the discovery of rock engravings, which they believe to be created by Homo naledi, in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa.
But announcement in popular media such as the National Geographic, CNN, the front page of the New York Times, and a new Netflix documentary entitled Unknown: Cave of Bones was of preprints, which are first-drafts of studies prior to peer review. The flashy rollout became a source of controversy when critical peer reviews were published on July 12 — only five days before Unknown: Cave of Bones was released.