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Homo naledi

Collective help

Berger and the bones: small, skinny helpers

BRETT ELOFFBerger and the bones: small, skinny helpersBRETT ELOFF

Paleontologist Lee Berger, of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, devised a creative way to meet a challenge. In October 2013, he turned to the internet to ask colleagues for help with one of the most difficult excavations of his career, at Rising Star Cave in South Africa. “Dear colleagues, I need the help of the whole community” began his post on a social network. “The catch is this—the person must be skinny and preferably small. They must not be claustrophobic, they must be fit, they should have some caving experience,” the message read. Berger had just discovered a small underground chamber filled with fossil remains. However, the location was very deep and hard to reach. Six researchers fitting the required description responded to his plea for help. They had to crawl through passages no more than 20 centimeters wide, but it worked. Over 1,500 pieces of collected bones and teeth proved to belong to a previously unknown hominid species. The feat was described in the magazine eLife and announced on September 10, 2015. The primate was baptized Homo naledi. In the Sesotho language, one of South Africa’s 11 official tongues, naledi means “star.” Homo, as we know, is the genus to which modern humans belong.