SFU caver among researchers unearthing new insights on ancient skull discovery

Leti Credit: Wits University

Leti Credit: Wits University

The researchers’ assessment of the cave’s complex system has led to the theory that Leti and the remains of other Homo naledi may have been deposited in the cave deliberately. This is in part, because the fossil deposits are located in hard-to-reach areas deep within the cave system and there is no evidence that animals or water carried the bones into the cave.

Elliott gained worldwide attention as a graduate student in 2013 as one of the original "Underground Astronauts" in the first Rising Star expedition, for her archaeological explorations at the cave.

"We got the name, I think, because working in the Dinaledi Chamber was a little bit like a space mission: a journey through the darkness, working remotely with only video and voice connection to a "command centre" on the surface, and matching overalls and helmets," says Elliott.

She squeezed through an 18-cm-wide pinch point to work deep underground, where she excavated the largest collection of a single species of hominin fossils ever discovered in Africa. It turned out to be a new species of human called Homo naledi.

Elliott was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2016 for her work in the cave system. The honour recognizes unconventional thinkers and innovators and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring scientists, conservationists, storytellers and innovators who are making a difference early in their careers.

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