Space-age Exploration To Help Unearth Pre-historic Bones

Posted: Jun 1 2016, 5:40am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Space-age Exploration to Help Unearth Pre-historic Bones
A 3-D laser scan of the Dinaledi chamber, where Homo naledi was found, shows the floor of the chamber, with the Homo naledi hand still in the ground before excavation. Credit: Wits University

The high-tech 3D mapping of our newly-found relative Homo naledi's home has opened the doors for scientists to use the space-age technology to search for pre-historic bones.

The extremely difficult conditions in which Professor Lee Berger's team from University of the Witwatersrand's (Wits) was forced to work gave rise to the use of space-age technology to map the Dinaledi chamber and Rising Star Cave in which over 1500 Homo naledi fossils were found.

Ashley Kruger, PhD candidate in palaeoanthropology, roped in the use of high-tech laser scanning, photogrammetry and 3D mapping technology to bring high-resolution digital images on an almost real-time basis in order to make vital decisions regarding the underground excavations.

“This is the first time ever where multiple digital data imaging collection has been used on such a sale, during a hominin excavation," Kruger said.

In 2013, after the discovery of the hominin assemblage, Berger planned an expedition to excavate what became known as the Dinaledi Chamber, a cave system near the Sterkfontein Caves, about 40 km north-west of Johannesburg in South Africa.

An all-female team of six were selected to undertake the underground excavation due to the challenge of navigating a 12 meter vertical Chute, and passing through an 18 cm gap.

Berger himself was unable to go down into the chamber, which forced the team to introduce high-tech digital imaging techniques to virtually bring the exploration site to the surface.

Kruger and colleagues have now mapped the entire path of the Rising Star Cave, including the Dinaledi Chamber, both on the surface and underground.

“The 3D scans of the cave and excavation area helped scientists above ground immensely in making decisions about the next step to take with regards to excavations,” added Dr Marina Elliot, Rising Star excavation manager.

“These methods provided researchers with a digital representation of the site from landscape level right down to individual bones,” noted Kruger in a paper published in the scientific journal, the South African Journal of Science.

The precise digital reconstruction of the Rising Star Cave provides new insights into the Dinaledi Chamber's structure and location, as well as the exact location of the fossil site, the authors stated.

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