Video: Scientists Examine Skulls to Aid New Fossil Identification

Steve Churchill, post-cranial specialist on the Rising Star Expedition shows off the hominid skull replicas in the Science tent, and explains how the team uses them to help identify the skull pieces emerging from the cave below.

In South Africa, three hominid genera have been discovered to date: Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and Homo.

By having casts of known specimens on hand, whenever a fossil piece puzzles the experts, or whenever they think it might match one of these species, they get out the casts and compare.

With resin or plaster casts in one hand, and actual hominid remains on the table before them (or vice versa) there is one species that is clearly identifiable in the tent.

This is Homo sapiens, “the thinking man,” at work. Curiosity, memory, and communication are all on display. Deep below, our more physical skills are needed. Together, a human community is doing what no one of them could do alone.

Another hallmark of Homo sapiens.


See More Videos and Read All Blog Posts From the Rising Star Expedition



Meet the Author
Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.