When recreational cavers Steve Tucker and Rick Hunter stumbled on the unmistakable traces of hominin fossil remains it sparked a three-week expedition to the Rising Star Cave in South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, just 25 miles north of Johannesburg. These fossils were exactly the type of material that Lee Berger had asked their caving club to be on the lookout for.
With the bones hidden 30 metres underground, beyond obstacles including a tight squeeze of only 18 cm wide, it was necessary to assemble a select team of researchers who had excavation experience, caving skills and were of a particular body size required to reach the inner chamber.
Directed by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, and supported by cavers from the Speleological Exploration Club of South Africa, these researchers are now bringing up hominid fossils for experts on the surface to start the analysis.
On the very first day of entering the fossil chamber the team recovered a hominid fossil in remarkably good condition.
The Rising Star Expedition soon discovered that the cave contains more than one individual and the potential of this site has yet to be fully realised.
Berger has now said that more than 200 hominin fossils have so far been found within the cave and after coming up to the surface, the bones are compared with replicas of previously found hominin remains.
However, the team is holding back on saying where the Rising Star fossils fit on the evolutionary tree. Berger said he expected a scientific paper on the find would be prepared for publication in late 2014.
Meanwhile, National Geographic and the “Nova” science documentary team are working on a TV show about the expedition.
Past Horizons. 2014. “Rising Star cave produces over 200 hominin fossils”. Past Horizons. Posted: November 18, 2013. Available online: http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/11/2013/rising-star-cave-produces-over-200-hominin-fossils