SFU PhD student Marina Elliott

Rising Star: SFU student uncovers history in South African cave

Marina Elliott one of 60 students on historic dig, uncovering 1,500 fossils of a new hominid species called Homo naledi.

SFU PhD student (now alumna) Marina Elliott has her name on a couple prized papers – two entries into eLife, an academic journal, describing her and her team’s discovery of a new type of hominin.

Called Homo naledi, it was discovered by Elliott and 60 other international students on a dig in South Africa’s Rising Star cave in 2013. They uncovered 1,550 fossils, believed to be over 2.5 million years old – the total was “the largest collection of a single species of hominin fossils ever discovered in Africa,” according to SFU.

Their work has just been published, two years later, in a September 10 issue of eLife. Their work was also chronicled in an episode of the PBS series Nova, which premiered last week as “Dawn of Humanity” on the network, and in an article for October’s National Geographic.

“Most academics in just about any discipline don’t even dream of a find as momentous as this,” Elliott told the Vancouver Sun‘s Bethany Lindsay. “In paleoanthropology, we’re really used to dealing with a single phalanx (finger bone) or a fragment of jaw, or a single bone in a season – never mind 1,500 fragments from something that is clearly a new species.

I remember feeling really overwhelmed, because everywhere that I looked with my headlamp, it would pick up flashes of bone.”

Elliott told the paper the fossil haul belongs to “15 individuals” of Homo naledi.

National Geographic, in publishing a fraction of video on YouTube, described the significance of the find as such: Homo naledi is “the newest member of our human family. The Homo naledi discovery adds another exciting chapter to the human evolution story by introducing an ancestor that was primitive but shared physical characteristics with modern humans.”

She is now a postdoctoral research fellow at Johannesburg’s University of Witwatersrand’s Evolutionary Studies Institute. It’s the same school where the excavation’s leader, human evolution studies professor Lee Berger, teaches.

She told SFU’s Diane Luckow the dig was “among the most difficult and dangerous ever encountered in the search for human origins.”

The fossils were discovered in a “pitch-black chamber” 30 metres deep, after the team entered through an 18-centimetre-wide opening.

“Because the cave system where the bones were located was extremely difficult to access, it could be speculated that these hominins practiced a behavior previously believed to be modern: that of deliberately disposing of their dead underground,” writes National Geographic.

VIDEO: New Human Ancestor Discovered: Homo naledi

VIDEO: ‘Dawn of Humanity’ – NOVA’s Special 2015 Documentary

Just Posted

Surrey woman’s ‘tell-all’ book aims to help those struggling with domestic violence

Second book details abusive marriage, how people failed her

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner bids farewell in tearful State of City Address

Outgoing mayor announces Director of Housing, looks back at Surrey’s evolution, and pokes fun at her ‘media missteps’

ZYTARUK: Hepner, to her credit, rose to the occasion

She could have used her last address to make political digs, pitches and slights. She did not.

Supportive housing opponent says 110-year-old document should prevent development

Proposed site for Cloverdale project is on land gifted to city by Joseph Shannon in 1908

VIDEO: Story surrounding new playground at Surrey hospital a real ‘tear-jerker’

Dad began planning after his son had surgery in Surrey and he saw too many sad faces

Fresh-faced Flames fend off Canucks 4-1

Vancouver drops second straight NHL exhibition contest

VIDEO: B.C. deer struggles with life-preserver caught in antlers

Campbell River resident captures entangled deer on camera

Scheer pushes Trudeau to re-start Energy East pipeline talks

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer questioned the Prime Minister over Trans Mountain project

Mistaken identity: Missing dog claimed in Moose Jaw belongs to another family

Brennen Duncan was reunited with a white Kuvasz that was found in Saskatchewan

Abandoned kitten safe and sound thanks to B.C. homeless man

‘Jay’ found little black-and-white kitten in a carrier next to a dumpster by a Chilliwack pet store

Police chief defends controversial marijuana seizure

Advocates said cannabis was part of an opioid-substitution program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Trans Mountain completes Burrard Inlet spill exercise

Training required, some work continues on pipeline expansion

Supporters of B.C. man accused of murdering Belgian tourist pack courtoom

Family and friends of Sean McKenzie, 27, filled the gallery for brief court appearance in Chilliwack

Most Read