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    Discovering Hominins - Application of Medical Computed Tomography (CT) to Fossil-Bearing Rocks from the Site of Malapa, South Africa.
    (Public Library of Science, 2015-12-18) Smilg, J.S.; Berger, L.R.; Smilg, Jacqueline S.
    In the South African context, computed tomography (CT) has been used applied to individually prepared fossils and small rocks containing fossils, but has not been utilized on large breccia blocks as a means of discovering fossils, and particularly fossil hominins. Previous attempts at CT imaging of rocks from other South African sites for this purpose yielded disappointing results. For this study, 109 fossil- bearing rocks from the site of Malapa, South Africa were scanned with medical CT prior to manual preparation. The resultant images were assessed for accuracy of fossil identification and characterization against the standard of manual preparation. The accurate identification of fossils, including those of early hominins, that were not visible on the surface of individual blocks, is shown to be possible. The discovery of unexpected fossils is reduced, thus lowering the potential that fossils could be damaged through accidental encounter during routine preparation, or even entirely missed. This study should significantly change the way fossil discovery, recovery and preparation is done in the South African context and has potential for application in other palaeontological situations. Medical CT imaging is shown to be reliable, readily available, cost effective and accurate in finding fossils within matrix conglomerates. Improvements in CT equipment and in CT image quality are such that medical CT is now a viable imaging modality for this palaeontological application.
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    A comparison of hominin teeth from Lincoln Cave Sterkfontein L63 and Dinaledi Chamber South Africa
    (Academy of Science of South Africa, 2019-05) Brophy, J.K.; Irish, J.; Churchill, S.E.; de Ruiter, D.J.; Hawks, J.; Berger, L.
    Prior to the recovery of Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star Cave system, the Middle Pleistocene fossil record in Africa was particularly sparse. With the large sample size now available from Dinaledi, the opportunity exists to reassess taxonomically ambiguous teeth unearthed at the nearby site of Sterkfontein. Teeth recovered from Lincoln Cave South and area L/63 at Sterkfontein have been considered ‘most probably Homo ergaster’ and ‘perhaps Archaic Homo sapiens’, respectively. Given the similarities shared between Lincoln Cave, area L/63, and the Dinaledi Chamber with regard to climatic/geologic depositional context and age, two teeth from the former sites, StW 592 and StW 585 respectively, were compared with corresponding tooth types of H. naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber. The results of our study indicate that the Lincoln Cave and area L/63 teeth are morphologically inconsistent with the variation recognised in the H. naledi teeth. Significance: • The similar age and climatic/geologic depositional and post-depositional circumstances at Lincoln Cave South, area L/63 at Sterkfontein and the Dinaledi Chamber, Rising Star raise the possibility that these fossils might represent the same species. • The teeth StW 592 and StW 585 are not consistent with the variation evident in the known H. naledisample. • The results of the study do not add to the question of the existence of at least two species of the genus Homo living in close proximity to each other in South Africa at approximately the same time.
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    New fossil remains of Homo naledi from the Lesedi Chamber, South Africa
    (eLife Sciences Publications Ltd, 2017-05) Hawks, J.; Elliott, M.; Schmid, P.; Churchill, S.E.; de Ruiter, D.J.; Roberts, E.M.; Hilbert-Wolf, H.; Garvin, H.M.; Williams, S.A.; Delezene, L.K.; Feuerriegel, E.M.; Randolph-Quinney, P.; Kivell, T.L.; Laird, M.F.; Tawane, G.; DeSilva, J.M.; Bailey, S.E.; Brophy, J.K.; Meyer, M.R.; Skinner, M.M.; Tocheri, M.W.; VanSickle, C.; Walker, C.S.; Campbell, T.L.; Kuhn, B.; Kruger, A.; Tucker, S.; Gurtov, A.; Hlophe, N.; Hunter, R.; Morris, H.; Peixotto, B.; Ramalepa, M.; van Rooyen, D.; Tsikoane, M.; Boshoff, P.; Dirks, P.H.G.M.; Berger, L.R.
    The Rising Star cave system has produced abundant fossil hominin remains within the Dinaledi Chamber, representing a minimum of 15 individuals attributed to Homo naledi. Further exploration led to the discovery of hominin material, now comprising 131 hominin specimens, within a second chamber, the Lesedi Chamber. The Lesedi Chamber is far separated from the Dinaledi Chamber within the Rising Star cave system, and represents a second depositional context for hominin remains. In each of three collection areas within the Lesedi Chamber, diagnostic skeletal material allows a clear attribution to H. naledi. Both adult and immature material is present. The hominin remains represent at least three individuals based upon duplication of elements, but more individuals are likely present based upon the spatial context. The most significant specimen is the near-complete cranium of a large individual, designated LES1, with an endocranial volume of approximately 610 ml and associated postcranial remains. The Lesedi Chamber skeletal sample extends our knowledge of the morphology and variation of H. naledi, and evidence of H. naledi from both recovery localities shows a consistent pattern of differentiation from other hominin species.
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    The age of Homo naledi and associated sediments in the Rising Star Cave, South Africa
    (eLife Sciences Publications Ltd, 2017-05) Dirks, P.H.G.M.; Roberts, E.M.; Hilbert-Wolf, H.; Kramers, J.D.; Hawks, J.; Dosseto, A.; Duval, M.; Elliott, M.; Evans, M.; Grün, R.; Hellstrom, J.; Herries, A.I.R.; Joannes-Boyau, R.; Makhubela, T.V.; Placzek, C.J.; Robbins, J.; Spandler, C.; Wiersma, J.; Woodhead, J.; Berger, L.R.
    New ages for flowstone, sediments and fossil bones from the Dinaledi Chamber are presented. We combined optically stimulated luminescence dating of sediments with U-Th and palaeomagnetic analyses of flowstones to establish that all sediments containing Homo naledi fossils can be allocated to a single stratigraphic entity (sub-unit 3b), interpreted to be deposited between 236 ka and 414 ka. This result has been confirmed independently by dating three H. naledi teeth with combined U-series and electron spin resonance (US-ESR) dating. Two dating scenarios for the fossils were tested by varying the assumed levels of 222Rn loss in the encasing sediments: a maximum age scenario provides an average age for the two least altered fossil teeth of 253 +82/–70 ka, whilst a minimum age scenario yields an average age of 200 +70/–61 ka. We consider the maximum age scenario to more closely reflect conditions in the cave, and therefore, the true age of the fossils. By combining the US-ESR maximum age estimate obtained from the teeth, with the U-Th age for the oldest flowstone overlying Homo naledi fossils, we have constrained the depositional age of Homo naledi to a period between 236 ka and 335 ka. These age results demonstrate that a morphologically primitive hominin, Homo naledi, survived into the later parts of the Pleistocene in Africa, and indicate a much younger age for the Homo naledi fossils than have previously been hypothesized based on their morphology.
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    Earliest hominin cancer: 1.7-million-year- old osteosarcoma from Swartkrans Cave, South Africa
    (Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf), 2016-07) Odes, E.J.; Randolph-Quinney, P.S.; Steyn, M.; Thockmorton, Z.; Smilg, J.S.; Zipfel, B.; Augustine, T.N.; de Beer, F.; Hoffman, J.W.; Franklin, R.D.; Berger, L.R.
    The reported incidence of neoplasia in the extinct human lineage is rare, with only a few confirmed cases of Middle or Later Pleistocene dates reported. It has generally been assumed that premodern incidence of neoplastic disease of any kind is rare and limited to benign conditions, but new fossil evidence suggests otherwise. We here present the earliest identifiable case of malignant neoplastic disease from an early human ancestor dated to 1.8–1.6 million years old. The diagnosis has been made possible only by advances in 3D imaging methods as diagnostic aids. We present a case report based on re-analysis of a hominin metatarsal specimen (SK 7923) from the cave site of Swartkrans in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. The expression of malignant osteosarcoma in the Swartkrans specimen indicates that whilst the upsurge in malignancy incidence is correlated with modern lifestyles, there is no reason to suspect that primary bone tumours would have been any less frequent in ancient specimens. Such tumours are not related to lifestyle and often occur in younger individuals. As such, malignancy has a considerable antiquity in the fossil record, as evidenced by this specimen.