Hominin diversity at Sterkfontein

The Sterkfontein Caves play a pivotal role in our understanding of the early hominin diversity in southern Africa. In particular, Pliocene deposits from Member 2 and the Jacovec Cavern have yielded exceptional remains of Australopithecus (e.g., “Little Foot”) that contribute to the ongoing debate on the variability of Australopithecus (i.e., were there two species at Sterkfontein?). Similarly, Member 5 and Milner Hall have the potential to provide critical information on the identity of early Homo specimens (i.e., H. gautengensis, H. habilis and/or H. erectus/ergaster?). Since 2017, as a member of the Sterkfontein research team, I have been addressing these fundamental questions by describing and identifying new specimens and studying enigmatic historical remains from the Sterkfontein Caves.

Virtual rendering of hominin fossil remains from Sterkfontein.
  • Little Foot” is the most complete Australopithecus skeleton yet found and one of the oldest evidence of human evolution in South Africa. We described the shape of the bony labyrinth of “Little Foot” and discussed implications for early hominin paleobiology and evolution (link).
  • In 1995, an enigmatic partial hominin cranium has been found in the 4 million-year-old lower-lying deposits of the Jacovec Cavern at Sterkfontein. In 2016, we decided to re-examine this exceptional specimen and comparatively assess its cranial vault thickness and composition (link).
  • Recent excavations at Sterkfontein revealed hominin-bearing sedimentary deposits in Milner Hall that have the potential to yield Australopithecus, Paranthropus and/or early Homo specimens. We recently described two new hominin cranial fragments (link).

 

We are developing a “Sterkfontein project” on MorphoSource. 3D surfaces of fossil specimens are available online (link).