The excavation team is going to produce a series of video recordings of the scientific work being conducted on the site whose walls are crammed with fossils. 

Wits paleoanthropologists have discovered fossil remains at a new site in the Cradle of Humankind that they predict may be a rich source of potential hominid discovery. 

The site is located approximately 100m from the Rising Star Cave system where Homo naledi was first discovered. 

Wits professor of paleoanthropology and explorer for the National Geographic Society, Lee Berger, introduced the new fossil hominid site to the world on Sunday, August 23, via The Fossil Vault YouTube channel, as part of an experiment in open science communication. 

“I’m betting this is going to be an extraordinarily rich site,” Berger told Wits Vuvuzela. “The first block I selected for preparation was right on the floor inside the cave and it was full of hominids. In our world, that means we’re in for a big ride.” 

According to Berger, the site, which is known by its Wits accession number U.W. 105, is a “large cave system made up of three main chambers and a number of smaller side chambers, passages and sinkholes”. 

The excavation team will produce a series of videos which will follow and record the scientific work being conducted at the new hominid site, featuring the preparation of potential fossil discoveries, building the site up for excavation and ultimately, identifying and understanding the history and ages of the fossils that may be discovered. 

“I’m deliberately wanting to do this in front of the public,” Berger said. “My field has been historically known as a very closed one. I believe that by showing you the transparency of the process, the science becomes more real, accessible and understandable.” 

Fossil preparator and excavator, 49-year-old Zandile Ndaba who is working at the site, believes that U.W. 105 has incredible potential. “Two blocks containing fossils have been found in the cave and the site is rich because you can see a lot of fossils on the walls and surface of the cave,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. 

The first fossil discovery – the partial mandible of a hominid – contains an erupting third and second molar and the impression of a first molar that has since fallen out. “So far, we know that it’s not naledi or sediba,” Ndaba said. 

A day after that initial discovery, another fossil was found that belongs to a completely different individual, which is an extremely rare occurrence according to Berger. “The first hominid is a relatively young juvenile, the second is a slightly older adult.”  

Berger hopes that this new discovery will encourage students at Wits and beyond to not only consider careers in paleoanthropology, but to realise that the world is full of endless possibilities. 

“I find that young people often look at the world and think there are no new opportunities for them. I want to show them that there is always more out there to be discovered. We need to inspire people to keep exploring and site 105 is a great example of that.” 

To follow the ongoing research at site U.W. 105, updates are available on The Fossil Vault YouTube channel: 

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits professor of paleoanthropology Lee Berger talks to Wits Vuvuzela about new fossil discoveries at the Cradle of Humankind. Photo: Niall Higgins