Wanted: Small-chested, skinny scientists for deep excavation

"Skinny anthropologists, biologists, cavers, not afraid of confined spaces." When Professor Lee Berger, who found the fossil of Australopithicus sediba in 2008, put out this call on social media, people thought he was joking.

He wasn't.

In the next few days, a group of professional cavers and scientists – all women, chosen specifically because they had a chest measurement of less than 18cm – will begin excavating a new site in the Cradle of Humankind, Berger told journalists in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Berger, who was earlier this year named National Geographic explorer in residence describes the fossil find as "significant".

"We do not know as yet what species of hominin we have found, and we will not speculate … We are going to find what comes out as it comes out," he said.

Discovered by exploration team leader Pedro Boshoff and his two assistants, slim-physiqued Steve Tucker and Rick Hunter discovered the fossils in an underground cave.

But it is about 30m below the surface, and only people with a bust size of 18cm or less could fit.

Berger put a call out to social media, and within 10 days had a list of 57 qualified candidates, only six of which were chosen.

"These are highly trained scientists with caving experience from the US, Canada and Australia, who are currently in South Africa preparing for the excavation," he said.

The cavers will be extracting the fossils from the site and transporting them out of the cave.

The expedition, at what is called Rising Star Cave, is a partnership with the University of Witwatersrand and National Geographic.

The expedition is expected to take three weeks, a process that was accelerated because the fossils are "exposed", Berger said. However, he refused to speak about the location, the species of the fossils, and implored the journalists and the public to be patient.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

​All actions to counter climate change matter

Sipho Kings and Sarah Wild consider the question we all ask: Do our efforts count, or is this just about what big corporations do?

Our starch cravings date back to cave dwellers

​Starches have been dietary staples for even longer than we thought

NLC funds breathe life into the West Coast Fossil Park

Funds from the NLC contributed towards the design and construction of of museum and visitors centre and the creation of many visitor experiences

Fossil teeth reveal new facts about a mass extinction 260 million years ago

A study has found that a local event rather than a global shift in climate caused the mass extinction in South Africa

Only dishonest mental gymnastics can hold up the hypothesis of race ‘science’

Although it is totally discredited, its pervasive influence still colours perceptions because of its long association with empirical validity

New telescope MeerLicht to observe transients

The MeerLicht telescope will scour the skies to study transient celestial events. But its link to the MeerKAT radio telescope is what sets it apart.

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Fake trafficking news targets migrants

Exaggerated reports on social media of human trafficking syndicates snatching people in broad daylight legitimate xenophobia while deflecting from the real problems in society

It’s not a ‘second wave’: Covid resurges because safety measures...

A simple model shows how complacency in South Africa will cause the number of infections to go on an upward trend again

Unisa shortlists two candidates for the vice-chancellor job

The outgoing vice-chancellor’s term has been extended to April to allow for a smooth hand-over

How US foreign policy under Donald Trump has affected Africa

Lesotho has been used as a microcosm in this article to reflect how the foreign policy has affected Africa

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday