During their weekly Assembly on September 13, 2017, St. Mark’s Middle Schoolers heard from surprise guests on the other side of the planet. Paleoanthropologist Dr. Lee Berger and members of his expedition team video conferenced from deep inside the Rising Star cave in South Africa. They are still exploring the underground cave system where Dr. Berger first discovered a new species of hominin, Homo naledi.
“It is fantastic to see you all,” Dr. Berger said, waving to the webcam inside the dimly lit cave. Some of the chambers further down, where bones are still being excavated, are only accessible through seven inch-wide openings. As a result, Dr. Berger and his team rely on a special group of “underground astronauts” who can navigate the tight spaces. “We have a network of cameras and communications systems designed to let us stay in touch with all of the chambers.”
Using Google Hangout, Dr. Berger was able to display multiple cameras from the various chambers of Rising Star. “We’re able to take you boys down into these chambers where only a very few number of scientists have been.”
Dr. Berger and his teammates ended the broadcast by taking questions from the eager and curious audience. One boy asked how often the team finds new bones in the chambers. While responding, Dr. Elen Feuerriegel uncovered a Homo naledi rib bone.
“No other team in the history of paleoanthropology has ever shared directly from a dig site with any technology,” said John Mead, Eugene McDermott Master Teaching Chair in Science. Since 2012, Mr. Mead and Dr. Berger have collaborated to bring real-world science into the St. Mark’s classroom. Dr. Berger has been a frequent visitor to campus and remote guest speaker with classes via video conference. In 2015, Mr. Mead even traveled to South Africa and was granted exclusive access to Dr. Berger’s then-secret discovery of Homo naledi.
Boys will be able to ask more questions on October 10, when Berger and some of the “underground astronauts” will visit St. Mark’s in person.
St. Mark’s School of Texas is a private, nonsectarian college-preparatory boys’ day school for students in grades 1 through 12, located in Dallas, Texas. St. Mark’s aims to prepare young men to assume leadership and responsibility in a competitive and changing world.