• Question: Have you ever exam fossils?

    Asked by nayah to Lindsay on 9 May 2015.
    • Photo: K. Lindsay Hunter

      K. Lindsay Hunter answered on 9 May 2015:

      I think you’re asking if I’ve ever examined fossils? If so, the answer is “ABSOLUTELY!” A major interest of mine is Neandertals, but I have studied and worked with other fossil humans before (I’ve even worked on a baby giant sloth!).

      Most of this work was done in museums, but most recently, I was part of a six-person, all-female team to excavate newly described fossil human ancestor bones from Rising Star Cave in the Cradle of Humankind (outside Johannesburg, South Africa). Luckily for you, we were followed around by National Geographic film crew, so very soon there will be a documentary for you to see so that you can feel like you were there, too! Our Nat Geo mini-blog (http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/blog/rising-star-expedition/) during Rising Star Expedition brought people along for the ride, and we always enjoyed live-Skyping classrooms while in the field!

      While I really enjoy working in the field and digging up fossils, nothing beats being able to really sit down and study fossils, and this usually has to wait until they are subjected to conservation and cataloging in a lab and/or museum. Once fossils have made their way to a museum, they have been treated and coddled so that they are less fragile than they were when they first came out of the ground. However, my specialty is ribs, which tend to be SUPER-fragile no matter what, so working with fossils, while fun, can also be a VERY nerve-racking undertaking!

      Once, when I was working on a female Neandertal called La Ferrassie 2, a fire alarm went off in the museum. When they are not being studied, the fossils are kept in fire-resistant vaults, but this one was vulnerable because she was in my lab space with me! I froze, not knowing if I should just leave or bring the fossils with me. Finally, museum worker had to drag me out, telling me that the fossils were already dead, but I didn’t have to be. Very fortunately, it was a false alarm triggered by renovations, but it scared the life out of me!

      Museum highlights reel: Shanidar 3 (National Museum of Natural History, DC), Kebara, Qafzeh, Skhul fossils (Tel Aviv University, Israel), Sterkfontein Australopithecus africanus fossils (Transvaal Museum, Pretoria, South Africa), Krapina Neandertal fossils (Hrvatski prirodoslovni muzej, Zagreb, Croatia), Dolni Vestonice (Dolni Vestonice, Czech Republic), Feldhofer Neandertal and Oberkassell fossils (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, Germany), La Ferrassie Neandertal fossils (Musee de l’Homme, Paris, France), and Tabun C1 Neandertal (Natural History Museum, London, UK). There’s others that I’ve handled and studied for fun, but these are the ones that I’ve really gotten to know!