From Paige Madison at Aeon:
The assumption, then, was that death rituals were practised only by modern humans, or perhaps also by their very closest relatives. The possibility that primitive, small-brained Homo naledi could have engaged in the deliberate disposal of dead bodies not only challenges the timeline about when such behaviours appeared; it disrupts the whole conventional thinking about the distinction between modern humans and earlier species and, by extension, the distinction between us and the rest of nature. More.
Actually, it does nothing of the kind. It suggests that the Naledi were able to think in an abstract way, but that fact casts doubt on the claimed importance of brain size as opposed to humanity.
Death is a reality but, as we perceive it, it is an abstraction. Many animals care when those they relate to die. But it’s unlikely they understand what death “means,” in terms of the range of abstract concepts such as “all living things die” and “he isn’t coming back,” to start with the two most obvious.
The obsession with trying to prove that human are not special sometimes borders on the bizarre.
See also: Coffee!! Sheep “can recognise human faces” – BBC How about this?: Sheep could learn to identify any human body part if they needed to. That doesn’t mean they understand what faces mean to humans. But much science writing about animal minds today seems to depend on maintaining just this type of confusion.