The Cradle of Humankind

I’m currently in South Africa and was lucky enough to visit the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site, located about one hour’s drive from Johannesburg.

I donned my safety helmet and descended down into the Sterkfontein Caves where the iconic “Mrs Ples” and “Little Foot” specimens were discovered (Australopithicus). Discovered in 1947, “Mrs Ples” is one of the best known ‘pre-human’ skulls found. “Little Foot” was described much more recently during the 1990’s, and represents a near complete individual.

However it was the “Almost Human” exhibition at the nearby Maropeng Visitor Centre that really excited me. In 2015 a new species of hominin was described, Homo naledi. Due to some certain features of the skull such as a relatively small space for the brain, H. naledi was originally estimated to be around 2 million years old (about the same as Australopithicus). However once the fossils were dated, they were shown to be much more recent (~335,000 – 236,000 years ago).

Two chambers with multiple individuals have been recovered by a team of scientists who squeezed through narrow crevices and tunnels in the Rising Star cave system to retrieve them. There is evidence that the bodies were deliberately placed in the cave system near to the time of their death – could this be evidence of sophisticated burial rituals?

There is an abundance of original material on display, including one individual dubbed “Neo” – the most complete H. naledi specimen. It was a fascinating place to visit and one I very much recommend!

CoHk

Once we were fish – exploring our piscine origins

Did you know that we can trace the origins of our jaws back to the Silurian Period, over 420 million years ago?

Did you know that African lungfish will drown if held under water for too long?

Did you know that the first tetrapods had more than five digits on each hand/foot?

Do you know which vertebrates were the first to give live birth?

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Come and learn these and other amazing facts all about how you and your fish ancestors aren’t all that different after all.

I will be speaking at Palaeo in the Pub” at Flinders Tavern, this Wednesday 18th April from 6pm. I’ll be joined by the other Flinders Fishy Folk, Prof. John Long and Dr. Brian Choo as we regale you with fabulous ‘fishtails’.

The event is FREE to attend and you are invited to enjoy happy hour prices on drinks all night, with some nibbles and hot food provided.

Palaeo in the Pub Flyer - Final copy

On the hunt for tetrapod footprints

I wrote a blog piece for the Flinders University Palaeontology Society’s (FUPS) journal, “Beer n’ Bones” about our fieldwork trip last year to Victoria in search of tetrapod trackways.

We visited the Grampians and Coopracambra National Parks and I was lucky enough to have my first ever HELICOPTER RIDE! You can read it in full by following the link below: http://flinderspalaeosoc.org/tetrapodtracks/

Zalchemie

Figure 1: A model showing what the makers of the Polish Zachełmie trackways may have looked like in the Geological Museum of the State Geological Institute in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo: A. Clement).