We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Tent

  • November 20, 2013 | Andrew Howley

After the field trip the day before, the excavation team was eager to get back into the cave.

The early hominids seemed just as eager to get out.

On the first day of excavations the goal was to recover a mandible. Little did anyone expect to be doing it again within a week. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

On the first day of excavations the goal was to recover a mandible. Little did anyone expect to be doing it again within a week. (Photo by Andrew Howley)

The first goal of the day was to finish excavating the recently revealed mandible. For twenty minutes, the top-side folks were gathered around the monitors watching as grain by grain the sediment was picked and brushed away. Eventually the hands on screen disappeared and then returned with a small scale they placed next to the fossil. “They’re taking the pictures. That means they’re about to remove the fossil” Marina informed us.

But first there was more picking and brushing.

Eventually, there was a flurry of activity. From the top of the frame, Hannah Morris’s face appeared, visibly holding her breath. A sheet of bubble-wrap appeared on screen and the hands lifted a bright streak out of the ground and placed it on the wrap. Above ground the Command Center erupted in applause and cheers.

Suddenly the National Geographic theme was trumpeting through the air–Lee Berger’s phone.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe…


Shortly thereafter, the comms phone rang and John Hawks picked up. ”What do you mean there’s another one?” he said. “Another mandible?”

As the team was lifting this last piece, yet more teeth had been revealed underneath.

Outside the tent, Lee was spreading the news to the rest of the team. “Paleoheaven has arrived,” he told them. “It’s just solid fossils.”

A few minutes later, skull specialist Darryl de Ruiter made his way from the Science tent to the Command Center: “We’re running out of space.”

“There’s another safe down there,” said Lee with surprise.

“You keep bringing up fossils. We keep putting them away,” Darryl replied.

Jaws III

That night, they recovered that additional piece of mandible before exiting the cave. Today, up came part of a frontal bone from a cranium, and more long bones. And as has become the normal rhythm of the days here, the removal of those pieces simply revealed more bones below them.

In the science tent, Peter Schmid photographed every fossil that came up from the cave, as Darryl examined the existing mandible pieces under a microscope.

By mid-afternoon, Lee went on another run to purchase a few hundred more plastic boxes to keep the fossils in. I read the blog post John Hawks had been working on yesterday and made a major edit: his reference to there now being “300 fossils” recovered had to be updated to read “400.”

That’s when Roy Scheider suddenly backed into the Command Center staring blankly, cigarette dangling from his lip, and told us, “You’re gonna need a bigger tent.”


Read All Posts From the Rising Star Expedition

blog comments powered by Disqus