Rising Star cave yields more than 1?000 fossils in largest find yet

2013-11-27 00:00

CAPE TOWN — More than a thousand fossils have been found in 21 days in the Rising Star cave in the Cradle of Humankind, making this the largest find in southern Africa yet.

The find, which includes bones from more than a dozen individuals, is “right under our noses”, hardly a kilometre from where the Mrs Ples skulls were found by Dr Robert Broom in 1947.

The site is also near the Sterkfontein Caves and it is still a mystery why so many hominid died in this area.

“To describe it as unusual would be understating it,” said Professor Lee Berger, paleontologist at the Institute of Evolutionary Studies at the University of Witwatersrand and leader of the dig at the Rising Star cave.

“There are still thousands of bones from another dozen individuals, but we will for now first close the cave securely to study what we have.”

Never before have so many hominid fossils been found in one place. The dig dwarfs the 2008 find, when Berger found at least five hominid individuals of the new species Australopithecus sediba at a prehistoric watering hole nearby. That site is also still being studied.

In the past three weeks, 50 experts from all over the world had been camping at the caves to help dig up and identify the first series of fossil bones from the narrow cave 30 metres underground. “We went 200 metres into the cave and it [the bones] were all over the floor. I thought it was just one skeleton … then there were thousands of elements. We are not yet sure how old the fossils are, how they died and from what species they were. This will now be described. But I can say these are an early hominid and we have bones from a large range of ages,” Berger said.

The team, supported by National Geographic, will return to the site next year to continue the dig.

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