Hominid fossils to be chipped out on web
PEOPLE around the world will soon be able to watch a live internet broadcast of scientists excavating fossils from the Malapa site at the Cradle of Humankind, host to the 2-million-year-old remains of the human ancestor Australopithecus sediba.
Malapa is one of the richest sites of hominid fossils. Wits University scientists recently discovered new fossils which they think may belong to "Karabo", the Au. sediba found there.
The broadcast of paleontologists on the job is the brainchild of Wits University's Prof Lee Berger, who discovered Au. sediba and identified it as a species of hominid. He believes it was a transitional creature between Au. africanus and early members of humans' genus, Homo.
"We have discovered a great big rock, inside of which is the remains of either Karabo or a brand new skeleton," he said.
His approach of sharing the fossils with other scientists and the public is in stark contrast to many of his rivals in the field - one that has seen experts keeping a tight lid on their discoveries.
"I have been a proponent of open access for well over a decade," Prof Berger said yesterday.
"I realised opportunities were going to come if we changed the way we do science . as the person who is fortuitous enough to make the discovery is not necessarily the best person to analyse it.
"There is no way to steal this. This level of discovery belongs to the world . and this is just our way of making that happen."
A laboratory studio is being planned for the Maropeng visitor centre at the Cradle of Humankind, which will allow the public to watch scientists removing fossils from the rock in which they are embedded.
Virtual outposts will be created at museums around the world where visitors will be able to interact with the scientists. Partnerships are being discussed with the Smithsonian in Washington, the Natural History Museum in London, and the Shanghai Museum of Science and Technology.
The studio is being designed by National Geographic, and will be funded by Wits, the Gauteng government and the departments of arts and culture, and science and technology.
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