We’ve Looked, But Haven’t Seen

Heard of Australopithecus sediba? No? What about Karabo? Nope?

It’s the scientific and general name for an amazing find just outside the city limits of Johannesburg, by legendary palaeo-anthropologist Professor Lee Berger. In fact, this great find that fills a critical void in our transition through the various Hominid forms to the Homo-sapien was discovered by his nine-year-old son, Matthew, after countless professional scientists, some of whom had even done their PhD degrees on fossil finds in the area known as the Cradle of Humankind, had seemed to miss this particular area where Karabo was lying. What’s even more incredible about the find is that the scientists haven’t even begun to excavate the land – the two fossil finds of the male and female Australopithecus sediba were lying on the surface, amongst hundreds of other well-preserved remains.

The Professor gave us an incredible lecture at school today on his adventure over the past two years in being a part of this amazing discovery. Below is the gist of what he spoke about (it’s a video of the media unveiling of the find at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg).

Professor Berger’s discovery was made possible by the great advances in technology that are currently aiding in our immense progress into understanding more about the world we inhabit. For example, he used Google Earth to discover that the area where he’d been working for a number of years, an area that he subsequently knew so well, hadn’t actually been explored to its capacity. GPS restrictions on early positioning devices offset readings for security purposes, and Google Earth led to him discovering a myriad number of new cave sites, around where this great discovery was made.

A lesson I have taken to heart from Professor Berger’s lecture, and what truly inspired me about this incredible individual, is his belief in the future generation of science. Technology is advancing to such an extent that more of these kinds of finds are certainly possible in the near-future. We just have to harness that power that technology provides us in order to steer in the right direction of discovery.

Berger went on to explain that, yes, in the past few hundred years we have certainly managed to navigate most of our planet. But the critical point is, have we really seen the planet? Have we understood it? Australopithecus sediba lay unnoticed in the dry South African sand for hundreds of years, and nobody found it. Perhaps it was because the scientists working the area became so familiar with the it that they didn’t really think to explore the area further – look properly again and again. Because Planet Earth has many hidden treasures, many hidden surprises just waiting behind the next unturned rock.

Prime examples of the development in technology is social networking. The propounding of a free, shared environment where information can thrive is set to bring up a whole generation of scientists and inquisitive thinkers who will not be afraid to collaborate across wide distances, and utilize advanced and connected tools in order to speed-up the process of discovery, whilst at the same time having a better, more well-rounded and holistic insight into future breakthroughs.

The future of science is certainly looking bright. I’m extremely excited about what the next 10 years bring in advancements; inroads into string theory, coupled with these kinds of paleo-anthropological findings will be able to answer thousands of our philosophical questions on the existence of our race. The way forward is certainly to see and understand our world; then only can we begin to make major advancements into critical scientific fields.

Oh, and by the way, according to Professor Berger, a 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine might just publish artist renditions of what the hominids looked like, complete with skin texture and muscle fibre reconstruction. Look out for it – I know I certainly will!

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