11 Steve Tucker And Rick Hunter Two Of The Cavers Who Found The Dinaledi Chamber  Cc Wits University
(Image: Wits Uni­ver­si­ty)

Steve Tuck­er and Rick Hunter are recre­ation­al caves who found the Dinale­di chamber

On Fri­day 13 Sep­tem­ber 2013, recre­ation­al cavers Rick Hunter and Steven Tuck­er vis­it­ed Ris­ing Star to look for undis­cov­ered sec­tions of the pop­u­lar and well-explored cave. At the top of a dif­fi­cult 15-to-20-metre climb known as The Dragon’s Back”, they dis­cov­ered a tiny, unex­plored crack in the rock. Steven wrig­gled down this chute feet first — like the caver above you — then shout­ed up to Rick, It goes!” These are the two words every cave explor­er wants to hear. Togeth­er, the two fol­lowed their unmarked route into an unchart­ed cham­ber 30 metres under­ground – and filled with fossils.

Not sure what to make of these mys­te­ri­ous bones, the two explor­ers con­tact­ed a fel­low caver and geol­o­gist, Pedro Boshoff, who knew just the per­son to ask. On his advice, the cavers brought pho­tos of the find to Uni­ver­si­ty of the Wit­wa­ter­srand Pro­fes­sor Lee Berg­er, a palaeoan­thro­pol­o­gist and Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Explor­er in Res­i­dence. Because his spe­cial­ty is our human fos­sil past, Prof Berg­er imme­di­ate­ly recog­nised the bones as belong­ing to a hominin. But from Rick and Steven’s descrip­tion of the almost inac­ces­si­ble cham­ber, he knew he would nev­er fit down the nar­row chute and would need a spe­cialised team of sci­en­tists to retrieve the bones.

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To assem­ble his team, Prof Berg­er post­ed this adver­tise­ment on Face­book. Over 60 peo­ple applied, but only six were cho­sen to become Ris­ing Star Expedition’s Advance Cave Sci­en­tists, pop­u­lar­ly known as the Under­ground Astronauts”.

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Under­ground astro­nauts’ select­ed for the project: Bec­ca Peixot­to (USA); Alia Gur­tov (USA); Elen Feuer­riegel (Aus­tralia); Mari­na Elliott (Cana­da); Lind­say Eaves Hunter (USA); Han­nah Mor­ris (USA)