Calling Small Scientistsby Kool Cat KC on 11/20/15
Archeologists and anthropologists are scientists who study the past. They hunt for signs of old civilizations. But fossils and what remains of ancient cities are buried under thousands and millions of years of sand and dirt and decomposed matter. So how do they find traces of the past? Archeologists have an idea of where to look, and they ask for help. Here’s a story from National Geographic which shows how sometimes you need to have a little knowledge, a lot of luck and work with what you have to make an awesome find.
In South Africa, near Johannesburg, archeologists and anthropologists have found important fossils. Lee Berger, an anthropologist and professor from the University of Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, had a feeling there were more fossils in the area. He put the word out not just to scientists, but to cavers too.
Steven Tucker and Rick Hunter, were having fun spelunking—caving—in the Rising Star cave in Johannesburg. While Hunter focused his camera to take a picture of a cave, Tucker stepped back to get out of the way. What happened then was the first step to a huge archeological find. The step was into a chute—a channel that dropped down. In some places, it was only eight inches wide. Tucker didn’t fall, but he and Hunter both followed the chute, down, forty feet, into another cave. And that’s where they found the surprise of their lives. The cave was full of bones. The bones looked human. They remembered Berger, the anthropologist.
Although Tucker and Hunter found the bones, it takes scientists to be able to identify the bones, tools and artifacts in an ancient site. But, of course, there was a problem. A scientist would have to be very small to be able to get back into the site Hunter and Tucker found. It would also help—a lot—if that scientist had caving experience. Professor Berger took charge of the operation, but he needed small scientists with caving experience—scientists who could get through two very, very skinny channels to get to the bones. What to do? Facebook! He found six small scientists with caving experience—all six young women. They were all either anthropologists or archeologists. Most of them were still studying their field. They knew how to handle specimens, preserve them and catalogue them. In three weeks, they took out 1200 well preserved bones. The bones were from an ancient species—not quite apes and not quite humans. This new species is now named Homo Nadeli. The bones have not been dated yet. That will come. I’ll let you know about it. But what interests me in this story is that sometimes science takes unexpected twists. Sometimes luck plays a part in mayor discoveries. And if you’re a scientist, you have to be really creative to get results.