Journey into Darkness: The Fossil Discovery that Changed History
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Join our expert caver and explorer, Rick Hunter as he takes us down the narrow chute into the bowels of Mother Earth to find Naledi, long-forgotten by time.
September the 13th fell on a Friday in 2013, a date reputed for bad fortune, though it proved one of the luckiest days in the history of palaeoanthropology. Within the unexplored compartment ~ 30 meters underground, now known as “Dinaledi Chamber,” Rick Hunter and his caving partner Steven Tucker discovered such an incredible surface collection of hominin fossils that even without training, they knew that both their lives and the face of an arcane field of inquiry were irretrievably changed. The long shadow of good fortune cast from that cavern has extended into all aspects of Rick’s life, both professional and personal.
Rick (as a “small space specialist”) and Steven went on to form the core of a dedicated five-member exploration team employed by Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa to expand the list of known hominin fossil sites within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (CoH WHS). This has led to the discovery of scores of new sites, new fossils, and new skill sets. Always one to push the boundaries, Rick has pursued advanced off-road driving, rope work, venomous snake identification and handling, and recently received his RPL (remote pilots license) that will help pioneer a new level in exploration.
This exclusive interview will detail the discovery, recovery, analysis and interpretation of the newly discovered hominin species Homo naledi, as well as a spine-tingling ride through exploration deep within the depths of ancient caverns full of secrets.
Perhaps most remarkably, the context of the find has led the researchers to conclude that this primitive-looking hominin may have practiced a form of behavior previously thought to be unique to humans! Join Rick to find out.
A native of Johannesburg and alum of Randpark High, Rick Hunter showed an early interest in dark and dangerous activities, much to his mother’s chagrin. Rick’s daunting resume includes rock climbing, abseiling, bouldering, technical rope work, Rap jumping, venomous snake-handling, and motorcycling. Rick Hunter’s passion for exciting, outdoor activities brought him to caving in February 2013. By September 13, 2013, he had already logged over 50 underground trips, though the one that date was to become by far the most memorable. On that evening, along with colleague Steven Tucker (caver), Rick undertook the exploration of an unknown, tiny chute within the well-traveled Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, some 50 kilometers north-west of Johannesburg, South Africa. | University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa