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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

How Old is Homo Naledi? Young Scientist Tebogo Makhubela is the Man Who Will Tell the World

Field Guide to the Cradle of Human KindRedi Tlhabi recently spoke to Tebogo Makhubela, the scientist who will hopefully eventually tell the world how old Homo naledi really is.

The Soweto-born scientist is currently working on his PhD in geochronology and landscape evolution at the University of Johannesburg. Makhubela explains that geochronology is the science of determining the ages of rocks, minerals and fossils.

Makhubela, who became a member of Professor Lee Berger’s Rising Star team in 2014 when he was still doing his Master’s degree, says his interest in paleontology and geology was sparked in 2008 when Berger discovered Australopithecus sediba at the Malapa Caves.

So, how will he date these bones?

Makhubela explains that the process starts with looking at the material that is attached to the bones. Second, you look at the soil and rocks covering the fossils which can be dated using different techniques. “We are not dating the age of the fossils themselves but other events which took place in the area,” he explains.

Listen to the podcast for this fascinating conversation:


Earlier this year, Business Day conducted an in-depth interview with Berger on his life-long dedication to palaeontology, the incredible current period of exploration and the exhilarating feeling when his phone rings and the voice on the other side says, “we’ve found something”. He also speaks about the criticism that’s accompanied finding Homo naledi.

Read the article:

THE lens of the world’s palaeontological community is focused on the finds coming out of this corner of SA. Wits, the government and the tourism industry couldn’t be happier. Berger’s luck is now as fabled as Louis Leakey’s. But will his peers draw the line at tourism?

It seems Berger splits the world of palaeontology. Some find his methods, his media savvy and big claims sacrilegious. Others are swept along on the tide of his enthusiasm, buoyed by discoveries, passion and the generous sharing of his grant funding.

“‘Leakey’s luck’ is an insult,” Berger says.

“It denies the decades of hard graft that came before. Who doesn’t want to be lucky? We say, ‘gosh, I’m lucky’ all the time. As long as the people who are making the discoveries are swashbuckling adventurers, they don’t threaten the scientific establishment.”

It is the heartstopping moment, the lightning strikes, that get him out of bed in the morning.

In October this year, Berger took to Facebook to set the record straight on a number of statements in the media and on social media about the conditions around finding Homo naledi. Berger weighs in on issues such as not putting preservatives on the bones during the process of excavation and the accusation that the six excavators were chosen because they are women.

Read the post on Berger’s Facebook page:

Finally, the idea that the six primary excavators, who just happen to be women, were chosen for their sex as some sort of publicity stunt is insulting. It’s insulting to our large team of scientists, it’s insulting to these extraordinary scientists who literally risked their lives daily to recover these fossils, and it’s insulting to female scientists in general. I led the selection panel its true. There were approximately 60 qualified applicants that responded to the Ad I and others circulated on various social media platforms. A significant majority of these applicants were women and that may reflect nothing more than the changing demographics of who is choosing to do a degree in this field, I don’t know – they are who applied. We shortlisted that group to about ten candidates who we felt were the best qualified based on their skills and their skills alone, as long as they met the physical requirements the dangerous task demanded. We quite literally ranked them in order. It is a little known fact that from the shortlist, the first selection of six excavators included a male, but he, it turned out, did not actually meet the physical requirements to get into the chamber and so by that one chance the six scientists we chose were all women and all the best qualified to do the job meeting all the requirements we set out at the time. I hope that clears that issue up once and for all.

What does Homo naledi look like? Thomas Hartleb writes for News24 that Homo naledi is a mixture of ape and human and, according to Berger, “practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage”.

For a detailed description of Homo naledi’s physical attributes, read two journal articles on Nature Communications entitled: “The hand of Homo naledi” and “The foot of Homo naledi”.

Read the article:

Homo naledi’s hands and feet had features of both apes and modern humans, according to new research.

Its wrist, thumb, and palm were similar to Neanderthals and modern humans.

The fingers however were “long and remarkably curved” like those of existing apes, according to a paper titled The hand of Homo naledi, published in the journal Nature Communications on Monday.

Towards the end of September, Berger gave his first public lecture since the discovery of Homo naledi at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas in the United States.

Read the report on the lecture, written by Anna Kuchment, for The Dallas Morning News:

However old the fossils prove to be, the discovery will upend our understanding of how humans evolved, Berger said.

“When we look into this face, we’re seeing something truly startling and new that tells us we should be extremely cautious about proclaiming every fossil fragment we find the newest and best ancestor,” he said. “Homo naledi tells us there is more to be found.”

Traditionally, evolution has been seen as a linear progression from chimpish animals that walked upright, to animals with larger brains, to modern humans. But Berger thinks human history is messier.

“Homo naledi questions the uniqueness of our humanity,” he said.

Visitors of the Natural History Museum in London can also experience the wonders of Homo naledi. Three-dimensional prints of the fossils were unveiled in September and put on display in the Human Evolution gallery:

Casts of H. naledi skull, hand and jawbone fossils will be unveiled to the public at the Natural History Museum’s Science Uncovered night on Friday 25 September 2015, and will then go on display in our new Human Evolution gallery, opening later this year.

Adding to the mystery
One reason scientists are excited about H. naledi is that the fossils were found 80 metres deep within the cave system – an area that would have been in constant darkness.

Prof Stringer, who has written a comment piece in eLife accompanying the research, says ‘the deep cave location suggests that the bones may have been deposited there by other humans’.

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Image courtesy of the Sunday Times

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The Discovery of Homo Naledi has Opened Up an Entirely New Field of Inquiry – Lee Berger

Field Guide to the Cradle of Human KindJ Brooks Spector recently sat down with paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, co-author of Field Guide to the Cradle of Human Kind, to discuss the discovery of a new species of human relative, named Homo naledi.

In September this year Berger and his extensive team of scientists announced the discovery of thousands of fossil bones in the Rising Star caves of the Cradle of Human Kind World Heritage Site. The manner in which the fossils were arranged is indicative of the possibility that this pre-Neanderthal species put thought into the process of disposing of their dead – a completely new idea.

“We’re going to have to open up an entirely new field of inquiry [about this]…. No matter what that level of consciousness is, until this moment, we have never had any level of strong evidence of a non-Homo Sapiens species in a ritualised way of dealing with death…. That is, doing the same thing in a repeated manner…. I do think we have the strongest evidence of this ever discovered,” Berger told Spector.

Read the article for more on this incredible subject:

The extraordinary public announcement, on Thursday, 10 September, of thousands of fossil bones from a new hominid species, Homo naledi, uncovered in one of the sites of the Cradle of Humankind has transfixed the world. J BROOKS SPECTOR takes a first look at what it may mean for an understanding of human origins – and what it may mean to be human.

Nearly 150 years ago, Charles Darwin had written in his then-controversial volume The Descent of Man: “In each great region of the world the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is, therefore, probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man’s nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere.”

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A First for South Africa: Discover More about the Karoo’s Snake Eagle Geoglyph

Timeless Karoo“South Africa now has its own impressive geoglyph, a ­monumental land ­artwork in the tradition of Peru’s ­mysterious Nazca lines,” Hilary Prendini Toffoli writes for Mail & Guardian about the latest addition to the already long list of things that make the Timeless Karoo a magical place.

Toffoli explains that geoglyphs are “large designs on the ground made from durable materials such as soil and stones”, an ancient art form most notably found in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru.

Land artist Anni Snyman spoke to Toffoli about her project – which saw a 170m x 58m Snake Eagle design appear as a permanent fixture on the Matjiesfontein landscape – and said: “Land art is a way of interacting with the natural world. You don’t have to have a degree in art history to appreciate it.”

Read the article to find out how they went about creating this piece of land art and what the symbolic significance is, and also more about Toffoli’s experience of walking the path created by this geoglyph:

Work began in September and finished in February. Unlike in Nazca, where the artists scraped away the darker topsoil to reveal lighter-coloured earth beneath, Snyman and her team of volunteers created their 170m?x?58m design with thickly painted lime dots the size of a small dinner plate. Lime is a natural material that contrasts with the earth, showing up on satellite pictures. Dots evoke Aboriginal paintings as well as South African rock art in which dotted lines depict portals to other dimensions.

Clearly visible from the air if you’re lucky enough to get up there, Snyman’s beautiful, vaguely Native American-styled image is a continuous line that covers 1?536m.

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Image courtesy of Site Specific Land Art

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Sean Fraser: “South Africans Have Stories to Tell, and it’s My Job to Help Them Tell Those Stories”

South AfricaPicturesque South AfricaSeven Days in Cape Town

Tiah Beautement spoke to Sean Fraser about his brief foray into news reporting and the road that eventually led to books. Fraser is a Rhodes University graduate of Journalism and Media Studies and the author of a range of travel books, including South Africa, Picturesque South Africa and Seven Days in Cape Town.

Fraser found his dream job in the publishing world when he started working for Howard Timmins, an imprint of Struik Publishers. The writer and editor has worked on biographies of great South Africans like Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, and more recently he’s worked with writers like Steven Boykey Sidley, Mandy Wiener and Barry Bateman.

“And, in all of this, what remains clear to me is that South Africans have stories to tell, and it’s my job to help them tell those stories,” Fraser said.

Read the article:

So what now? Well, books actually. I’d always been a voracious reader, and everything I was looking for was right there between the pages of books: mystery, intrigue, adventure and current affairs. So I rearranged my CV and began toting it around town. Four months, that’s how long it took for someone to bite. That call from Wilsia Metz at Howard Timmins (a small imprint of Struik Publishers at the time) changed everything. What I learnt at the desk of that woman you can’t learn in courses. And suddenly here I was, 22 years old, earning a ‘professional salary of R1 700 a month and doing what I loved: reading. People were actually willing to pay me to do just that.

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Vincent van Graan Discusses Cape Town Then and Now: “There is Just so Much History Here”

Cape Town Then and NowVincent van Graan was interviewed by House and Leisure‘s Lindi Brownell Meiring about his new book, Cape Town Then and Now. Van Graan explains that it was his love of photography and Cape Town that inspired the book and says that the mountain range and peninsula provided a good backdrop against which to match old and new photographs.

“There is just so much history here, and when one looks at these comparisons, you can’t help but be drawn in,” said Van Graan.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I have always been interested in photography and especially fascinated by old photographs and glass negatives. I think, that, combined with my love of Cape Town, sparked the idea when I saw the collections at the Archives. The mountain range and peninsula create the perfect backdrop to try and find the original area these old photographs were taken from. There is just so much history here, and when one looks at these comparisons, you can’t help but be drawn in.

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Charlene Smith: “The Way That the Mandela Family is Behaving Now Insults His Name” (Video)

MandelaCharlene Smith, author of Mandela: In Celebration of a Great Life, joined Gareth Edwards in studio at eNCA to discuss the way in which the Mandela family have been in the news recently.

Referring to Mandela’s children being involved in court case over the family’s assets, Smith said that “The way that the Mandela family is behaving now insults his name and insults our country” and continued saying that the way we are treating him “shames us as a nation”.

Watch the full interview:

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Jonathan Deal Discusses Winning the Goldman Environmental Prize

Timeless KarooMelanie Gosling from the Cape Times spoke to Jonathan Deal about winning the Goldman Environmental Prize. Deal says that he never expected to receive the prestigious award and that he thinks “there is probably a book in this.”

Gosling and Deal discussed his beginnings as a “high school drop-out” who traveled in the 80s and then returned to South Africa where he could only find work in the security industry. This led him to starting a risk management company and then buying a farm in the Little Karoo. A newspaper article led to an interest in fracking and he then established the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG).

He went from a high school drop-out to winning one of the most prestigious environmental awards in the world.

Jonathan Deal of Durbanville, the man who spearheaded the anti-fracking movement in South Africa, has won the Goldman Environmental Prize for his anti-fracking campaign.

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