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82 MIN READ TIME

Paleoanthropology Wars

BY NATHAN H. LENTS

NEWS OF THE EXPLOSIVE DISCOVERY OF HOMO NALEDI in South Africa reverberated throughout the world in September 2015. The scientific, popular, and social media were equally abuzz with the truly breathtaking nature of the find: thousands of fossils, more than a dozen individuals, almost an entire skeleton reconstructed. Never in the 150-year history of pale-oanthropology had so much been found at once. In one full swoop, there are now more fossils of H. naledi than there are of more than half of the other named hominins that lived and died over the past seven million years. It was a one-of-a-kind discovery.

The find was different in another way as well. Lee Berger, the anthropologist leading the study, showed a staunch commitment to get the results of the team’s work, and the fossils themselves, out to the public as soon as possible. Within two years of their initial discovery, the first papers were published and the fossils were made available to the public, and not just in the traditional way of publishing a paper and placing precious fossils behind plate glass for the public to gawk at. Berger and another member of the team, John Hawks, completed extensive three-dimensional imaging of the fossils and provided the resulting data free of charge to anyone. With these data, one can 3D print your very own high-resolution casts of the original fossils. From anywhere in the world, one can obtain a facsimile of the highest possible quality, at no cost except for the materials for the printing. Even in our open access era, this is an unheard of level of transparency and data sharing.

The Rising Star cave system

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