Homo naledi finds its home at Wits vault

first_imgThe Homo naledi fossils have been carefully placed in the highly secure Phillip V Tobias Fossil Primate and Hominid Laboratory, which houses most of the world’s information on human evolution. We take you on an exclusive tour. Homo naledi fossils has been relocated to the Phillip V. Tobias Fossil Primate and Hominid Laboratory where further tests will be done. (Images: Shamin Chibba) The gallery • Local researchers honoured at their ‘Oscars’ • Space science can solve socio-economic problems• Hanli Prinsloo: ‘Fall in love with the ocean, to save it’ • New push for careers in science and innovation • DNA detective work could end poaching  Shamin Chibba The Homo naledi fossils, which were recently discovered in the Dinaledi Cave in Gauteng, have been given a new home at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.The fossils are now housed in the vault at the Phillip V Tobias Fossil Primate and Hominid Laboratory on campus, after spending a month on display at the Cradle of Humankind in neighbouring Mogale City.The new species, Homo naledi, was named after the chamber in which it was discovered, in the Rising Star caves. The underground room where the fossils were found was called the Dinaledi Chamber, which means “chamber of stars” in SeSotho.At a recent Forum on China-Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) media tour hosted by Brand South Africa, local and foreign journalists were given exclusive access to the vault.Archaeologist Lee Berger, an American based at Wits’ world-renowned centre, said the vault was home to almost 60% of the world’s fossils, including the recently discovered Homo naledi. Berger and his team of excavators were on hand to show and explain their experiences during their discovery of the Homo naledi fossils.At its opening in July, Berger said the vault held more scientific information on how humans evolved and where we came from than any other facility worldwide. “Right here in this vault, this word-class vault, is the majority of their assemblage. It’s held in high security because this is all of human heritage.”“This is a very special place,” he told the journalists on the FOCAC tour earlier this month. “We don’t allow anyone other than scientists to enter here.”But the press members were given a chance to view the Homo naledi remains up close.And now, we present to you exclusive pictures from the vault taken during that media tour.  Pictured is the inside of the vault at Wits University. Berger said there was an “extraordinary spike in discoveries across Africa over the last decade” and that there is still more to find on the continent. Berger believes that this young woman’s curved hand could have been shaped that way for climbing. What startled Berger and his colleagues is that the Dinaledi Cave where the homo naledi fossils were found was just 1.5-kilometres away from Sterkfontein, a site that is rich in hominid fossils. Homo naledi had the ability to move its arms and legs like modern humans. The homo naledi fossils were on display at the Cradle of Humankind between September and October this year. Schoolchildren were given the chance to view the remains of the homo naledi when it was kept at the Cradle of Humankind earlier this year. The bones showed no traces of their being in fights with carnivores or other hominins. This suggests that the Dinaledi Cave was where the homo naledi disposed of their dead, a sort of burial site. This is an indication of their sophistication and what Berger said was a recognition of their own mortality. “It is what separated us from the animal kingdom.” Berger said fossils of 15 individuals of various ages were found 12 metres into the Dinaledi Chamber. Taung Child, pictured above, which is a fossilised skull of a young Australopithecus africanus, is also housed in the vault at Wits University. It was discovered in 1924 by quarrymen working for the Northern Lime Company in Taung, North-West province. An illustrated representation of the Dinaledi Cave where the homo naledi fossils were found. (Image: Wits University)last_img read more

‘Karabo’ skeleton replica on exhibit in Cape Town

first_img23 May 2014The Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town has become the first museum in Africa to exhibit a standing replica of the two-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba – dubbed “Karabo” – one of the most complete skeletons of an early human relative that has ever been found.One of South Africa’s most important palaeoanthropological finds, the original skeleton of Australopithecus sediba – dubbed “Karabo” – was discovered at the Malapa site in the Cradle of Humankind north-west of Johannesburg in 2008 by professors Lee Berger and Paul Dirks.Berger is a palaeoanthropologist at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University, and Dirks is a geologist based at the James Cooke University in Australia. Berger led the team of scientists from across the globe on the excavation.The two-million-year-old Australopithecus sebida is thought to be a good candidate for the transitional species between the southern African ape-man Australopithecus africanus (examples include the Taung Child and Mrs Ples) and either Homo habilis or even a direct ancestor of Homo erectus (Turkana Boy, Java Man or Peking Man). The australopithecines are believed to be the ancestors of the Homo genus.There is no doubt, Berger said recently, that Australopithecus sebida is a new species, but not in the Homo genus. “There is broad acceptance of the species Australopithecus sediba among scientists as something previously unknown to science. Very little debate has occurred around whether these bones represent a new species. The debate has centred, largely, [on] whether the species should be placed in the genus Homo.”The new species has long arms, like an ape, and short powerful hands, making it likely that it could have retained its ability to climb. A very advanced pelvis and long legs suggest that it was capable of striding and possibly running like a human. It is estimated that it was about 1.27 metres tall and weighed about 33 kilograms.Berger, on behalf of the Evolutionary Studies Institute, in partnership with the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site Management Authority, handed over a replica of a reconstructed, upright Karabo to the Iziko South African Museum last week.“As Iziko Museums of South Africa has been such a wonderful supporter of palaeoanthropological discoveries, it was agreed by the stakeholders that it should be the first museum in Africa to display a standing replica of Karabo,” Berger said last week. “It will become part of the exhibition titled ‘The search for our early ancestors’, currently on show at the museum.”This standing replica is one of a number of casts available through the Marapo Stones and Bones project, a community-based and driven fossil casting facility at the Cradle World Heritage site that is the result of a partnership between the institute at Wits and the Cradle site.As part of this partnership, an arrangement has been made to allow for the donation of casts of fossils from the Cradle site to partners around the world, including public institutions and universities such as Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, and to museums including the Natural History Museum (Museum fur Naturkunde) in Germany and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.The production of casts forms an important part of the goal of developing the economy and people in the Cradle of Humankind and other heritage-rich areas of South Africa, as well as developing the science of palaeoanthropology in Africa, and the continued promotion of the Cradle area as one of the world’s foremost fossil hominid-bearing sites.The sites of Malapa and the newly excavated Rising Star site, together with the world famous Sterkfontein Caves, have yielded the richest early human ancestor sites on the planet. Work on Australopithecus sediba alone has been featured in a large number of prestigious scientific works as well as the popular media, including National Geographic, Scientific American and Time Magazine.The Malapa site still holds precious fossil material, and excavations are likely to continue at the site for decades to come.SAinfo reporter and Wits Universitylast_img read more