Hominid-fossil seeker revisits South Africa

Apr 29, 2014
A view of command central set up at the entrance of the Rising Star Expedition cave in South Africa that was found to contain more than 1,500 ancient human bones. Credit: SFU

(Phys.org) —In contrast to the adage, third time lucky, a Simon Fraser University archaeology student has already been twice lucky in helping to unearth ancient hominid finds in a well-hidden South African cave.

Actually, this spring, luck had little or nothing to do with Marina Elliott's recovery of another 320 bones in addition to the 1,200 she helped find in the same cave last fall.

"There certainly were again some very exciting fossils found in our latest caving adventure. But, unfortunately, I can't tell you what they are yet. Stay tuned!" says Elliott. In the first trip, one of the highlights was the retrieval of a palm-sized section of skull.

Elliott's years of recreational caving allowed her to easily slither back down an 18-cm-wide opening in a secret cave at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, 50 kilometres from Johannesburg.

"The whole team was very sad to have to leave some very important pieces behind the first time because we ran out of time. Scientists had to move onto other obligations. So it was very satisfying to go back in and get these remains and discover new ones, especially as we were working with a skeleton crew of just seven people this time, pun intended."

As a member of the international Rising Star Expedition, Elliott is athletically and academically instrumental in helping the expedition's leader Lee Berger to retrieve and identify his team's finds. Berger is a research professor in human evolution in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, where all of this expedition's archaeological cache is being analyzed.

Elliott's hard work has earned her the title of Honorary Research Fellow at Wits.

In May a global team of scientists, including Elliott and Mana Dembo, another SFU archaeology student, will assemble at Berger's Wits lab to begin describing their colossal cache of fossils. The team aims to produce a peer-reviewed journal paper about its find as soon as possible.

"All aspects of the taxonomy, morphology and function of the specimens will be covered as thoroughly as possible," explains Elliott, who along with Dembo is in SFU's Human Evolutionary Studies Program.

"My role will be to assist with the analysis and description of the below-the-skull fossils in relation to features like body size and variation."

Dembo studies early hominins and uses several methods to try to understand how various species, including ours, are related to or different from each other.

"She will be helping the Rising Star team understand how these new species fit into what we know about humans and where they lie on the broader hominid family tree," adds Elliott.

The two leave Vancouver for South Africa on May 4, arriving there May 6.

Explore further: New mineral shows nature's infinite variability

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers strike fossil gold in South Africa

Dec 09, 2013

(Phys.org) —Squeezing through a gap called the International Postbox and climbing the jagged Dragon's Back were not in Alia Gurtov's plans for the fall semester, but she made an exception in order to participate ...

New mineral shows nature's infinite variability

Apr 22, 2014

(Phys.org) —A University of Adelaide mineralogy researcher has discovered a new mineral that is unique in structure and composition among the world's 4,000 known mineral species.

Another new fox species from Malapa

Jan 23, 2013

Researchers from Wits University and the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, together with international scientists announced on Tuesday, 22 January 2012, the discovery of a two million year old fossil ...

Sediba hominid skull hints at later brain evolution

Sep 08, 2011

An analysis of a skull from the most complete early hominid fossils ever found suggests that the large and complex human brain may have evolved more rapidly than previously realized, and at a later time than some other human ...

Recommended for you

Eastern Oregon dig uncovers ancient stone tool

Mar 05, 2015

Archaeologists have uncovered a stone tool at an ancient rock shelter in the high desert of eastern Oregon that could turn out to be older than any known site of human occupation in western North America.

Fossil lower jaw sheds light on early Homo

Mar 04, 2015

A fossil lower jaw found in the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, Ethiopia, pushes back evidence for the human genus—Homo—to 2.8 million years ago, according to a pair of reports publis ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.