“It’s not a normal commute,” says paleoanthropologist Marina Elliott, a post-doctoral fellow at South Africa’s University of the Witwaterstrand. She’s talking about the precarious, hour-long descent into Rising Star cave, located in the UNESCO-designated Cradle of Humankind. “It’s a little bit dangerous,” she begins, then revises. “Okay, a lot dangerous.”
Only accessible by a 40-foot-long chute studded with rows of sharp perturbations, like the teeth in a shark’s mouth, her workplace—an active fossil dig—is also nearly 100 yards from the cave entrance. “Even a minor accident would necessitate a huge rescue effort,” she explains. “They can’t send emergency equipment in there. You’d have to live [in the cave] until you are able to get yourself out.” Yet it’s a path she’s taken countless times since 2008. After all, she says, “it’s not a normal job.”
Part - Team - Scientist-slash-spelunkers - Paleoanthropologist - Lee
Part of a team of scientist-slash-spelunkers first recruited in 2008 by prominent paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, Elliott was the first of the group to enter the especially difficult-to-access Dinaledi chamber inside Rising Star. Berger’s team of roughly 60...