SA famous fossils embark on history-making journey to space

South Africa’s famous fossils of human relatives Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba made history as the first fossils to journey to space on Sunday.

The fossils were secured in a carbon fibre container and travelled onboard Virgin Galactic’s spaceship.

The experience was in celebration of their contribution to the evolution of the human mind and remembering inventions of their time such as fire and tools, which helped grow the human race.

The clavicle of sediba was discovered at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage in 2008 by the then eight-year-old Matthew Berger.

Homo naledi, which is famous for being the first non-human species to bury their own and use fire, was discovered at Rising Star Cave at the Cradle of Humankind.

Berger said these are ambassadors of humankind’s ancestors and they might have, in their times, looked up to the stars and wondered as much as modern human do.

This, according to Berger, was an opportunity to have them celebrate their contributions to current life.

He was granted the honour to hand-carry the fossils and deliver them to Spaceport America after the fossils travelled from South Africa earlier in the week.

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits University vice-chancellor, said the experience highlighted that young minds can also contribute to the development of science.

“It’s tremendously appropriate that a South African fossil of Australopithecus sediba, discovered by a young child, is among the first fossils to journey into space,” Vilakazi said.

“While the journey is symbolically important itself, the fossil is also famous for showing how children and youth can contribute to science through exploration and discovery.

“Homo naledi has become a symbol of the new age exploration and discovery into human origins in South Africa, which has been led by our university.”

Mathwe Sathekge, CEO of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and Dinokeng projects of the department of economic development in Gauteng, said the history-making journey was exciting to see.

“We sincerely hope it brings further awareness of the importance of our country and the African continent to understanding the journey of humankind that has led to the historic moment where commercial space flight is possible,” said Sathekge.

Curator of collections at Wits University, Bernhard Zipfel, said: “The fossil were carefully chosen not only for their symbolic importance, but also because they are among the most documented fossils of hominins in existence with casts, scans and images available across the world due to our scientific and open access efforts.”


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