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john hawks weblog

paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution

Photo Credit: Hillside above the Rising Star cave system, South Africa. John Hawks CC-BY-NC-ND

Rising Star: Targeted excavation this week

I’m not in South Africa this week but I am following closely as a small team of excavators is underground in the Rising Star site. I’ve posted the agenda for the week’s work at the Rising Star Expedition blog: “A critical piece of the hominin puzzle”.

The initial goal of this work is to recover a hominin maxilla that is exposed in the original “puzzle box” excavation area. As the November expedition was drawing to a close, the excavation team uncovered this maxilla. When they were working that area, the excavators carefully cleared around each fragment of bone before removing it. That’s how they first uncovered the maxilla. Although they could carefully work around it, they couldn’t bring it out of the sediment because of the overlying bones. It broke everyone’s hearts to leave that piece in situ, but at the time, we estimated it would be at least two additional full days of careful excavation work to bring it out.
The team will soon see whether that was right, or whether it was an underestimate!

The short excavation this week is helping to lay the groundwork for the upcoming May workshop, which will produce the initial descriptions of the fossil sample. More than 25 early career scientists have accepted positions in the workshop, from at least 11 countries (and I have a feeling I am missing one or two countries in there). It is an accomplished group and I am looking forward to seeing them working with the fossils!