The name Swartkrans is Afrikaans (one of South Africa’s 11 official languages) for “black cliff” and the anthropological site is marked by two open pits.
One contains material dating back more than 2.3 million years and the other holds artifacts going back as recently as 110,000 years ago, the era of modern humans.
Clarke, was inspecting the Swartkrans hominids when he noticed something unusual about these fragments: They did not match with .
In fact, the skull fragments had features more like those of humans.
Swartkrans has produced hundreds of early human fossils, along with the first evidence for controlled use of fire and the first use of non-stone tools.
“UW has a huge contribution to make in the study of human evolution,” says Pickering.
Fossils in South Africa are often encased in a hard, concrete-like rock called breccia.
Fossil experts, like Abel Molepolle here, use specialized tools to delicately remove the fragile bone from this rock, a process that can take years or even decades.
At one sifting screen, Wits professor Kathleen Kuman, considered one of the world’s preeminent early-human archaeologists, sorts animal bones and flakes of stone left over from stone tools produced as long as 2.6 million years ago.
At the other, Wits field assistant Andrew Moyagabo Phaswana sorts larger materials with the help of a student.