2.2 Malapa & Rising Star
The discovery at Malapa was the greatest in South Africa in almost two decades.
- Berger named the site Malapa, meaning “home” in the native Sotho language. The site has produced the most complete sets of early hominid skeletons ever discovered.
- Australopithecus sediba (sediba meaning “of the well”) is a humanlike ancestor that lived about 2 million years ago. These creatures had long arms with “modern” hands capable of using tools and moving through trees. The shape of its pelvis and the length of its legs suggest it could also walk on two legs.
- It’s possible that A. sediba represents a transition between the ape-like human ancestors (such as A. africanus) and the more “human-like” ancestors such as Homo erectus.
- The discovery of A. sediba breathed new life into exploration of South Africa and greatly increased our understanding of human evolution.
In 2013, explorers returned to the Rising Star cave system.
- Rising Star was a thoroughly explored cave system. Amateur cavers even trained in parts of the caves. It had been entirely mapped.
- But in September 2013, explorers Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker discovered a narrow vertical chute from an area in the system known as “Dragon’s Back,” leading down 40 feet.
- When they passed through this chute, they entered a newly discovered room underground, noticing fossils laying on the surface of the cave. They returned to photograph the site and later brought their initial findings to Lee Berger. He immediately knew he was seeing a primitive hominid mandible—with many other fossils laying nearby.
- Lee’s son Matthew now returned to the chamber with Rick and Steven to take sufficient photo evidence. It was clear that there were skulls and limb bones right at the surface of the site. It was time to organize an excavation.
In November 2013, the Rising Star Expedition began.
- The excavation team consisted of six female paleoanthropologists, who could all manage to squeeze through the 7-inch opening leading to the newly discovered chamber.
- These explorers were Hannah Morris, Marina Elliott, Becca Peixotto, Alia Gurtov, Lindsay Eaves and Elen Feuerriegel. They became known as the “underground astronauts.”
- Their excavation of this newly discovered chamber, known as the Dinaledi chamber (“chamber of stars”), yielded more than 1,200 fossils in November 2013 alone, accounting for over a dozen individuals.
- In one week, these explorers had discovered more early hominid fossils in a single chamber than had been discovered in the richest sites in southern Africa in 80 years.
- NOTE: Lee Berger’s Master Class was filmed in May 2015. This discovery was not announced until September 2015. The fossils discovered in the Dinaledi chamber were a new species known as Homo naledi.