Fossils and Chinese takeaways
I was recently reading about Austrolopithecus Sediba for school. This was a species of ancient hominid (that is a non-human primate that came before humans in evolution) that is about 2 million years old. It was found as a fossil in 2008. It was found in the Malapa Cave at the Cradle of Humankind by Matthew Berger and his dog Tal. The Malapa Cave is only 42 km from my house. It is in the Sterkfontein region of the Cradle of Humankind. I am lucky I live in an area where there are lots of hominid fossils. I like to think about how millions of years ago there were people who live just where I live now. They were not exactly like me but it is interesting to think that they saw some of what I see.
Matthew Berger is the son of a famous paleontologist called Lee Burger. That is why they were looking for fossils when they went for a walk with their dog. Matthew Berger was 9 years old when he found his fossil. I don’t know how old the dog was but he was a Ridgeback. Matthew Berger found the first one of this species ever to be found. Since then they have found a few more. The fossil was from a boy who was about 10 years old. The scientists call him MH1 or Karabo for his nickname. The fossil has a pelvis that looks like he walks on two legs but he has long arms like he can climb well. It looks like he was living a mixed life of ground walking and tree living. It is very unfair that Matthew Berger wasn’t listed in the authors of the paper that got published from this discovery! The dog wasn’t listed either. Only the grownups got to be on the paper. His dad tried to get him on the paper but the scientific journal wouldn’t let them.
Because I was interested in Matthew Berger’s find my dad took me to the Sterkfontein Caves this weekend. It is not the exact same cave that they found A. Sediba but it is part of the same region. The Sterkfontein Caves is a place where they have found lots of fossils and so they have a tour where you can go into the caves.
In the car on the way I played Granny – it is a horror game in which an old lady if she sees you she will kill you. You are in her house and you have to try to get out but she sets bear traps and puts locks on the doors. I did quite well but then I died. So sad.
Then we went inside the caves.
We went with a tour guide whose name was Anend Mothokgo.
Anend started by telling us about the rocks and all the scientists who have worked at the site since the early 20th century. He talked mainly about limestone because a lot of it is limestone. He said that in the 1930s the people who were in the cave were mining limestone by blasting it and that is when they started to find fossils. He said that there is a very famous fossil called Mrs Ples but they only have her head because they think that the rest of her got blown up and scattered. Mrs Ples is also an australopithecine but she is slightly different species to the Australopithecus Sediba that Matthew Berger found. Related but not the same. Our guide also told us that Mrs Ples who has been thought to be an adult woman for nearly 100 years has recently been reexamined and maybe she is actually a teenage boy!
Then we got to an underground lake. Anend told us that it is formed because in summer when it rains the rain water soaks through the rocks and the lake fills up. Then we got told a very sad story about Wits university diver long ago maybe in the 1940s who was diving in that underground lake and his ropes got cut on the rock and he swam up to the shore but couldn’t find a way out and he died of starvation. They found his body 6 weeks after he had died. Now they don’t allow diving like that anymore.
Then we went onto a current excavation site. It looked like a hole with yellow grids made of rope so they can mark out where they find fossils.
Then we saw some bones of an antelope that were fossilized inside a rock. After that we went onto the part that I was most looking forward to – the crawling and sliding where you go through the deep parts. It was fun for me but I bet for my dad it was awful because I am small which makes it easier but it was harder for him to go through the small hole. One very tall man had scoot through on his bum. Then we got through and we went on further and through some more tunnels and then got to the exit.
As you leave the caves you pass statues of scientists who worked there. There is a statue of Robert Broom who was the person who worked on Mrs Ples (or whoever she/ he was). In the statue he is holding the skull. The guide told us that we must rub the statue’s nose for luck and hands for wisdom but you can only choose one. I chose wisdom. My dad chose luck. My reasoning is that if you are in a difficult situation and you have wisdom then you don’t need luck.
On the way out there is also a little shop where they sell replica skulls and skull key chains and stuff. I got a ¼ size model of Australopithecus Sediba because he is my favourite. He was expensive – R90 but he is very nice. The full sized one is R600! On the drive home I talked my dad into buying us Chinese takeaways for supper this evening. He almost always says no when I ask so this is a big deal. As I am writing this I am looking forward to my chicken sweetcorn soup.
I would recommend Sterkfontein tour to anyone who is interested in evolution and people who like tiny skulls. I would also recommend it to anyone who wants to cheer up their dad so much that he agrees to have Chinese takeaways that night. I still think that Matthew Berger and Tal the dog should have been allowed to be on the scientific paper.