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 in a wildly successful archaeological expedition into a South African cave.
Over the last three weeks, Gurtov, a UW-Madison graduate student, and five other spelunking scientists have hauled hundreds of fossilized bones—likely the remains of several distant relatives of humans—through a rock crevice barely 18 centimeters wide.
"Every time I stop to think about what I’m involved in, I am almost overwhelmed by my incredibly great fortune," she said via email during a break. "Luckily, there are so many details to attend to in my daily life that I can maintain a reasonable level of excitement." Read more.
A harrowing expedition into the tiniest recesses of a cave system begins today in South Africa. The effort aims to recover recently discovered fossils of a yet-to-be-identified member of the human family.
Over the next several weeks, the expert team, directed by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger of South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand, will delve into the Rising Star cave system outside Johannesburg to carefully retrieve the fossils.
Berger’s team made headlines in 2010 with the announcement of the discovery of two skeletons of a new, two-million-year-old hominid species the scientists named Australopithecus sediba. Those finds were made at a site called Malapa Cave, northwest of Johannesburg. Read more.
A 350-million-year-old fossilised scorpion discovered in South Africa is the oldest known land animal to have lived on Gondwana, part of Earth’s former supercontinent, a university said Monday.
The new species, named Gondwanascorpio emzantsiensis, provides tantalizing clues about the development of life before Earth’s continents broke apart to form the globe that is familiar to us today, scientists said.
It is the earliest evidence yet of terrestrial animals on Gondwana, a land mass that included present-day Africa, South America and Australia and formed the southern part of a supercontinent called Pangaea.
So far evidence of such early land life had only been found on the northern part of Pangaea —- “Laurasia,” which is today North America and Asia. Read more.
For the first time, the iconic hominid (early pre-human) fossil finds of the famous Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (COHWHS) in South Africa will belong, in a very literal way, to the world’s public beginning Friday, July 26, 2013.
Up until now, access to the originals and casts of the fossils were the sole prerogative of select scientists and scholars involved in researching them. Now, casts, or replicas, of the original fossils, made by specially trained members of the local communities, will be sold and distributed to members of the interested public. Read more.
A towering “rain control” site, where shamans would have asked the gods to open up the skies centuries ago, has been discovered in South Africa.
Located in a semiarid area of the country, near Botswana and Zimbabwe, the site of Ratho Kroonkop (RKK) sits atop a 1,000-foot-tall (300 meters) hill and contains two naturally formed “rock tanks.” These tanks are depressions in the rock created when water weakens the underlying sandstone. When the scientists excavated one of them, they found over 30,000 animal specimens, including the remains of rhinoceros, zebra and even giraffe.
"What makes RKK special is that every piece of faunal material found at RKK can in some way be linked to rain control," researcher Simone Brunton, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cape Town, wrote in an email to LiveScience. Read more.
The climate of South Africa was once much wetter than it is today, and those lush times may have spurred human populations through especially innovative periods, new research shows.
Evidence from these ancient periods suggests humans produced new tools, and used symbolism in wall engravings. The findings suggest a tight link between abrupt climate changes and the emergence of modern human traits, researchers say.
"We provide for the first time really good evidence that the occurrence and disappearance of these first finds of human innovation are linked to climate change," said study author Martin Ziegler, an earth science researcher at Cardiff University in Wales. Read more.
A study of two ancient hominins from South Africa suggests that changes in the shape and size of the middle ear occurred early in our evolution. Such alterations could have profoundly changed what our ancestors could hear — and perhaps how they could communicate.
Palaeoanthropologist Rolf Quam of Binghamton University in New York state and his colleagues recovered and analysed a complete set of the three tiny middle-ear bones, or ossicles, from a 1.8-million-year-old specimen of Paranthropus robustus and an incomplete set of ossicles from Australopithecus africanus, which lived from about 3.3 million to around 2.1 million years ago. The ossicles are the smallest bones in the human body, and are rarely preserved intact in hominin fossils, Quam says.
In both specimens, the team found that the malleus (the first in the chain of the three middle-ear bones) was human-like — smaller in proportion compared to the ones in our ape relatives. Its size would also imply a smaller eardrum. Read more.
The most complete investigation of the anatomy of what may be the immediate ancestor of the human lineage is now shedding light on secrets about how it might have behaved, researchers say.
For instance, the human ancestors may have moved in an entirely new way, with a somewhat pigeon-toed gait with a twisty trunk, the researchers added.
The first specimens of the extinct species Australopithecus sediba were accidentally discovered by the 9-year-old son of a scientist in 2008, in an area in South Africa named the Cradle of Humankind, one of the richest fossil sites in Africa. Australopithecus means “southern ape,” while sediba means “fountain” in Sotho, one of the 11 official languages of South Africa, due to how scientists hint the human lineage might spring from this species. Read more.