BRICS leaders meet Homo naledi

Last week, the leaders of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) met in a joint summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, along with other leaders and government representatives. One of the unique events during the summit was a “virtual” visit to the Maropeng Visitor Centre of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.

The SA News agency wrote up a story about the visit: “BRICS leaders get a taste of Cradle of Humankind”.

The Cradle WHS is home to many famous hominin fossil sites, including Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Cooper’s Cave, Malapa, and Rising Star. For the last year, Maropeng has been the host to an extraordinary public exhibition of the Rising Star fossil material, including the new fossils from the Lesedi Chamber. For last week’s BRICS meeting, these were joined at Maropeng by some other significant skeletal remains from the Cradle, including the STW 573 “Little Foot” skeleton from Sterkfontein, and the MH1 “Karabo” skeleton from Malapa.

The South African minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, led the virtual tour.

Pandor went on to give the BRICS leaders an exclusive view of three types of specimen hominin fossils that were on display. These were Homo naledi, “Little Foot” (Australopithecus prometheus) and “Karabo” (Australopithecus sediba).
It was the first time that “Little Foot” was on public display, after having been recovered from the rock in which it has lain buried for the past 3.67 million years at Sterkfontein.
The BRICS leaders were first taken through the origins of Homo naledi, one of the fascinating discoveries in human origins.
Consisting of more than 1 550 numbered fossil elements, the discovery is the single largest fossil hominid find yet made in Africa.

It’s really exciting that the South African government is so proud of the fossil discoveries, and that South African scientific work can shine in this way.

Heritage and science development are much more central to the conversation at meetings like BRICS, compared to the political and economic focus of the G7. I’d say that the larger economies have misplaced—or, maybe, shorter-term—priorities. Taking the long view might help us all find greater common ground.