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16 July 2012

Exciting new fossil discovery to go viral

Last week South African scientists shared the country’s latest fossil discovery with the world using live virtual technology – a sign of things to come.

Professor Lee Berger Professor Lee Berger outside the Museum of Science & Technology in Shanghai

This discovery will almost certainly make Karabo the most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered. We are obviously quite excited as it appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton, albeit encased in solid rock. It’s a big day for us as a team and for our field as a whole. - Professor Lee Berger

SHANGHAI: On Friday 13th July 2012, scientists from the Wits Institute for Human Evolution announced the discovery of significant parts of a skeleton of an early human ancestor embedded in rock.

Professor Lee Berger (a reader in palaeoanthropology and the public understanding of science at the Wits Institute for Human Evolution) made the significant announcement at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. He was visiting China as part of a South African delegation promoting trade, business and tourism relations between Gauteng and Shanghai.

The skeleton is believed to be the remains of ‘Karabo’, the type skeleton of Australopithecus sediba, discovered at the Malapa site in the Cradle of Humankind in 2009. Berger said that the research team had discovered parts of a jaw, as well as what appears to be a complete femur, vertebrae and other significant limb elements.

Berger said, 'This discovery will almost certainly make Karabo the most complete early human ancestor skeleton ever discovered. We are obviously quite excited as it appears that we now have some of the most critical and complete remains of the skeleton, albeit encased in solid rock. It’s a big day for us as a team and for our field as a whole.'

It was also announced that for the first time in history, the process of excavating these fossils would be conducted live and conveyed to viewers in real time via video streaming.

'The public will be able to participate fully in live science and future discoveries as they occur in real time – an unprecedented moment in palaeoanthropology,' explained Berger.

A laboratory studio, designed in collaboration with National Geographic, will be built at the Maropeng Visitor Centre in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. This new development will allow the public to view the preparation of this skeleton live if they visit Maropeng, or live on the internet to select museums around the world.

'We are excited to have helped make this cutting-edge facility possible for the University of the Witwatersrand,' said National Geographic Executive Vice President Terry Garcia. 'We can’t wait to watch palaeontology happening in real time.'