It begins with a man who spent 17 years searching for early human fossils in one area of South Africa. He had a niche specialism - the anatomy of the hominin clavicle - and in this area of research, no one matched his expertise. He also had his own field site. At this site, in 17 years of excavations, he had found just two fragments of early hominins. But hominin fossils are rare, and these two fossils were enough to build a career.
One day, he received funding to survey a wider area beyond his research site, to look for potential further hominin fossil assemblages. The initial aerial surveys of the wider area around his site showed a small miner's path veering off from his well-beaten track through the bush, a path he had never noticed. He followed the track on the ground and found a cave. This is where, he decided, he would begin his search for more hominin fossils. He took his son, then 9 years old, and his dog, to check out the site.
But his son was more interested in playing with the dog, and as the two of them leapt through the grass surrounding the caves he found himself alone. Then, his son gave a shout. He said he'd found a fossil. His father - perhaps cynically, doubting his son's awareness of what constituted a fossil..? or perhaps not, perhaps he could feel what was coming, perhaps he sensed the certainty in his son's voice, and felt that rush of anticipation of what was to come - walked towards him, and saw that his son held a rock in his hand. And form several feet away, he saw a very, very familiar object embedded in the rock: A hominin clavicle.
Now, 8 years later, excavation upon excavation has revealed a vast quantity of fossil hominids at the same site. These remnants of our past are still being excavated, still being analysed, and still telling us utterly improbable facts that throw into question some of the most basic assumptions about human evolution.
Once again I found myself drawn into the world of our ancestors, as read through the fossil record. For details of the fossil, now known as Australopithecus sediba, click here. And, if you are reading this and wondering how such discoveries relate to research in entomophagy, please read this - As with all scientific discoveries, these data are but scratches on the surface :).