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When we think about what's been going on in human evolution over the past several years there are

lots and lots of exciting sites that we didn't know existed five years ago. I mean there's a lot of stuff that's really been changing and yet there are some sites in our field that have been continually producing new discoveries and will continue to produce some in the future. Out of all of those sites maybe one of the most important is Sterkfontein. Sterkfontein is in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, which is just outside of Johannesberg, South Africa. The first hominin fossil discoveries at Sterkfontein were made by Robert Broom, who was a paleontologist working with the University of Witwatersrand and he went to the site looking for evidence of early hominins. He was trying to do what Raymond Dart had already done at a couple of other sites in South Africa. Broom found some spectacular evidence of early hominin evolution at Sterkfontein. The evidence like this skull, STS5, the skull became nicknamed "Mrs. Ples" because Broom named it Plesianthropus transvalensis, and looking at the anatomy of the skull today you can see why he was not able to say with great certainty whether this was the same species as Australopithecus africanus, the specimen, the Taung specimen that had been discovered by Raymond Dart in the early 1920's. It's an adult and Taung is a kid, they're not directly comparable in most ways. It wasn't until later as we begin to appreciate the variability of

discoveries from this time frame in South Africa that we begin to lump these things together into the species Australopithecus africanus. Nowadays we talk about almost every hominin discovery between about three million years ago and something a little more than two million years ago in South Africa, we talk about all of them as members of Australopithecus africanus and we see a clear distinction between africanus and the robust Australopithecines in South Africa, Australopithecus robustus which is chiefly later in time. Sterkfontein the sight is a very complex site, it accumulated its deposits in distinct events that make up different parts of what formerly was a very large cave. Nowadays there is still a large underground cave at Sterkfontein, it's really a display cave where you can walk through and see the cave formations. You know it's classic "go on a tour of an underground cave" but there is also a large area of breccia which was formerly the floor of the cave that over many, many hundreds of thousands of years was accumulating sediments, bones of early hominids and baboons and all other kinds of vertebrates falling into it being cemented together as a breccia, and that breccia at Sterkfontein is enormous. It covers a very large area. I went on a tour of the site with the director today, Dominic Stratford and he showed me what's going on with the different parts of the site. The breccia that has been so productive in the past produced fossils like STS5 and STS14 which consists of a partial skeleton, this innominate bones,

bone of the pelvis being one of the most famous parts because this was the first hominin pelvis discovery from Africa to really show a bipedal pelvis in these early hominins. Tremendous discoveries of jaws and teeth, this may be the most famous - STS52 this showing the dentition of Australopithecus africanus, it's a dentition which is very much like in many respects the East African dentitions from Australopithecus afarensis earlier in time, but which as we know from this and many other specimens from Sterkfontein, varied substantially. Some of the teeth from Sterkfontein as large as the molars of robust Australopithecine seen in Australopithecus robustus and some much smaller, much more like other early hominins. We see at the site tremendous evidence of variation in the cranium, so as an example this famous skull STS5 and this skull STW505 they differ in their endocranial volumes by more than 50 percent. It's a huge difference between these two skulls and that difference is manifested by the cranial size, you can see that we've got a really big face in STW505, a relatively much smaller face in STS5. Part of this variation may be attributable to male versus female variation but part of it just reflects the fact that this is a really variable sample and in fact we have substantially smaller crania than STS5, smaller crania that are you know probably almost certainly females compared to this large cranium. STS5 is almost in the middle and if you look very carefully

at the breccia that's surrounded it you'll see that, that breccia preserves the evidence of the temporal lines, so we can really look at its morphology compared to the others. Sterkfontein was also the first place where we had evidence from Australopithicus of the valgus angle of the knee, everything about the skeleton of Australopithecines from top to bottom was initially noted among the Sterkfontein sample. That clear pattern of bipedal locomotion we now often talk about at earlier sites like Hadar representing Australopithecus afarensis but in the history of paleoanthropology it was Sterkfontein that established this pattern. What's so cool about Sterkfontein is that there are parts of the site that are still being discovered. So now less than 20 years ago a cavern beneath the main part of the site yielded evidence first of an ankle, the ankle bone of an early hominin, we didn't know for sure at that point what species it was, it looked like it could have been substantially older than Australopithecus africanus, the main part of the sample and its age is still in some question, it might be earlier than the other specimens from the site. After that ankle was found Ron Clark and his team looking through the nearby sediments found the place where the distal tibia, that distal part of the shin bone, was still embedded in the rock, the ankle was attached to a skeleton and the skeleton began to emerge. That skeleton which got the nickname "Little Foot", is still being brought out of the rock, taking that slowly out of the rocky matrix that it's embedded

in has taken now almost 20 years and it's still underway. Even deeper in the site is a cavern called the Jacovek cavern and the Jacovek cavern might be substantially earlier than any other parts of the site. Dominic took me down into the Jacovek cavern and we looked at the excavations that haven't yet begun with bones there in the stony matrix waiting to be excavated and he talked to me about what's going on at the site. He gave us a good tour of what is actually there in the cavern waiting to be uncovered and he talked about his own experience in the field. I started off my undergraduate in Egyptology, mostly a language-based course. And then through my own interests I started to move towards the technology and the earliest technology we found in Egypt and was available to me in the museums. And then I sort of came to South Africa because my family is from South Africa. I grew up in Johannesburg, and then I got in contact with Kathy Cumin [phonetic] who was going to be my future supervisor. And she said we have lots of projects at Sterkfontein. We have a wonderful example of an Oldowan, assemblage, and we'd love for you to come and have a look. That's great. And so I came here and I didn't have any idea about caves or site formation in caves or an Oldowan assemblage. And so I started looking at it, and it was very clear that in order to understand the assemblages, whether they're bones or stones underground we have to understand how they got there.

Yeah. And so my masters' was on purely Oldowan technology. And then I sort of gradually started to move towards stratigraphy and cave site formation processes in order that we can better understand and put together those assemblages all the way through their depositional history to the point at which they were made on the surface, whether their animals are dying, whether they're knapping stone tools. We want to find out about behavior. But we have to first understand how these deposits were formed. Sure. Yeah. That's what my Ph.D. was on. And then now I'm here. Now I get to explore caves and find fossils. That's incredible. And work everyday underground which is wonderful. If a student wanted to get into this area what would you tell him? I would say absolutely. I would say it's exciting. I'd say it's very -every day is different. I would say that I absolutely love it. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. You have to be fairly flexible, but I think it's a wonderful career. You do get to travel quite a lot. There are lots of benefits to being in this career. And I'd highly recommend it. I would recommend getting in contact with your local paleoanthropologist or anthropology professor and talking to him. And I would hope that there were lots of opportunities. You have this incredible broad background because of how you came into it. Do you think that

was helpful to you? I think it was in certain aspects. I think I was a bit of a late starter in terms of my paleoanthropological training. And it took me a little while to catch up. So my experience and skills at formal recognition and morphological analysis aren't particularly hot. However, I am still learning and you're still learning through your entire career in this field. Beautiful. But, yes, I do think that it benefitted me in that I have sort of experience in different contexts whether or not it's digging Viking sites in England or it's digging ordination sites in France or digging here in late Pliocene material in Sterkfontein. It does provide you with that experience that you can apply to all of these different contexts. That's great. Thanks. Pleasure.

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