Amazing team work to recover hundreds of human fossils is described by caver Rick Hunter, a member of Lee Berger’s team in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa. Hunter guides and supports the scientists, "standing sentry in the caverns, and on the long journey from daylight into the caves, through winding passages, a belly-crawl tunnel, up a jagged rock-climb, and down the final 12-meter vertical crack that leads to the fossil chamber below." Read Hunter's reflection in the National Geographic report The Journey into Darkness.
Lee Berger holding his most famous fossil find, a crania of Australopithecus sebida.
This fossil was found in the vicinity of the Rising Star system of caves.
After a week of running the operation, the advance scientists have fallen into a rhythm of approximately half-day shifts, staged into and out of the cave on a rotation. The first cavers go in around 7:15am, the last come out after 4:00pm. Getting into this cave requires several experienced cavers in place to assist the advance scientists entering and leaving the advance chamber. Some serve shifts inside the cave at key locations where they can support the scientists. Others are on hand at the cave entrance to run supplies in and fossils out. And the science team and command team are aboveground coordinating action and cataloguing and conserving the fossils.
We saw the incredible teamwork in action on Friday evening, as more than a dozen of the cavers and advance team carefully brought out a large skull fragment. Two scientists and two cavers staged it carefully up the Chute, seven handed it down Dragon’s Back, three more brought it through the Post Box — at the end with one scientist pulling our expert caver Rick Hunter through by the legs. All of this without so much as tipping the box containing the fossil.
Related reading: Science in Progress: The Rising Star Expedition in South Africa; A Geologist on the Rising Star Expedition