Unknown: Cave of Bones Review – A tedious watch with a few standout moments

By Kieran Burt
Published: July 17, 2023 (Last updated: July 24, 2023)
2023 Netflix documentary Unknown: Cave of Bones Review


A tedious documentary that feels almost as long as the thousands of years between us and Homo Naledi. The few inspiring moments or interesting facts don’t make up for digging in the dirt to find them. A shorter film would have been more palatable, raising the gems from the depths of the documentary.

Here is our review of the 2023 Netflix documentary film Unknown: Cave of Bones, released on July 17th, 2023. 

History holds a deep fascination for people, with many picking a particular timeframe and devoting their life to learning as much about it as possible.

And with so many eras to choose from, it’s unsurprising that two lovers of the past differ vastly on what they love, so while they can appreciate the other’s love for their chosen era, it’s not for them personally.

For the group of people in this documentary, that area is prehistory, looking at the species before humans. Think Neanderthals or Homo Erectus.

Their fascination is with what they call Homo Naledi, a previously unknown type of prehuman. But their excitement for what this new species means for our own gets lost, making for a long and tedious watch.

Unknown: Cave of Bones Review

Unknown: Cave of Bones is relatively simple, and bar one trip to France, spends its time in the Rising Star Cave system in Africa, looking at the bones of pre-homo sapiens and speculating about their society.

It doesn’t have the same appeal as the previous documentaries in the series and is less interesting because of it.

The team is searching for evidence of a new type of prehistoric human, Homo Naledi, to see if it engaged in similar burial practices as modern humans and whether their brains were complex enough to use tools.

If this were true, it would change how humans see themselves. This is repeated multiple times, but the importance isn’t felt. How could it?

They compare themselves to Indiana Jones, traversing dangerous environments and making huge archeological discoveries. It’s made humorous as Jones is a grave robber, which is literally what’s happening here. It adds a new look to all of this.

Audiences get to hear from Keneiloe Molopyane, the lead excavator, Lee Berger, the paleoanthropologist, and Agustín Fuentes, an evolutionary anthropologist, as they map the passages and dig for bones. But for the most part, they’re dull to listen to.

The film is competently shot and regularly takes viewers down the cave, so there’s some commendable effort to get equipment into very tight spaces.

This hands-on shooting makes some claustrophobic scenes, conveying the small spaces that prehumans used to thrive in.

We do see what Homo Naledi might have looked like, an upright ape, more or less, but it gives some much-needed context to what’s going on.

Otherwise, the audience is just staring at a pile of bones.

Watching as Berger lowers himself down a chamber he never thought he’d fit in is satisfying. Even if people find happiness in mostly dull topic areas, it can be joyous to watch their successes.

But it’s hard to get excited about the bones they’re showing. And while this undoubtedly interests some people out there, it doesn’t have the wide appeal of the other documentaries in this film series. It would have suited a shorter runtime.

Is Unknown: Cave of Bones good or bad?

While nothing is wrong on a technical level, and filming in a cave is impressive, the subject matter itself is dull and uninteresting, with few exciting and emotional moments to be found.

Is Unknown: Cave of Bones worth watching?

For someone who digs archaeology and/or has a specific interest in prehistory, then this documentary has a ton of information that will no doubt excite.

For anyone else, the few moments that make this documentary interesting are few and far between.

What did you think of the 2023 Netflix documentary film Unknown: Cave of Bones? Comment below.

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