When it comes to human evolution, the real stars are the fossils.  Individually named and known in a way that few other fossils are (think Lucy, Zinj, the “Hobbit”, Taung Child, Nariokotome Boy and Abel), these deep-time clues to the origins of our species are so rare and important that an even unprepossessing fragment can set palaeoanthropological pulses racing. So the discovery of over 1,000 pieces of new hominin (ancient human) bones, deep in the Rising Star Cave in the Cradle of Humankind, is a VERY BIG THING indeed.

Key to the excavation and recovery of the Rising Star Cave fossils were the “Underground Astronauts” specially recruited to the expedition for their combination of scientific expertise and caving experience. All six of these spelunking scientists are women. BOOM!

Much has been made of the unusual job advert for Rising Star Expedition, and of the successful applicants as an all-female, all-action crack team of fossil excavators (we love this hilarious piece in the Toast). But they are also all serious early career scientists *in their own right*. Between them, the Rising Star Trowelblazers have research interests that stretch from deepest prehistory to the recent  – sometimes very recent – past: all of it is fascinating. We’ve been emailing with them to find out more about the scientists beneath the caving helmets.


Continuing the grand tradition of women in anthropoplogy and archaeology: the 2013 Rising Star Advance Scientists (left; copyright National Geographic) and Dorothy Garrod’s 1929 all-female excavation team at the Mount Carmel Caves (right, copyright Pitt Rivers Museum).

Meet (in alphabetical order!):

Lindsay Eaves,

Marina Elliott,

Elen Feuerriegel,

Alia Gurtov,

Hannah Morris,

and Becca Peixotto.

These women are at the start of their academic careers and this expedition could be a career defining moment for them all. Excitingly, John Hawks has said on twitter that the Rising Star Expedition will be recruiting *even more* early career researchers for the analysis stage. This is probably not the last we’ll be hearing of the Rising Star Trowelblazers – in fact we fully expect their ranks to swell in number!

Written by Tori (@toriherridge)

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8 thoughts on “Rising Star Trowelblazers

  1. kristin DiVona says:

    Thank you for NAMING these scientists. I’ve read quite a lot of news articles this morning about this amazing discovery and was frustrated by the reference to the “6 female scientists.”

  2. Liz Brooks JD IBCLC FILCA says:

    Trowelblazers! Love me a good, groan-inducing pun. The accomplishments of this team are jaw-dropping. Well DONE!

  3. Deuska says:

    It is such a shame that this sort of things happens: The team is made up of 14 PEOPLE, 7 men and 6 women. Amongst the men were the director of excavation and the original discoverer of the first bones.

    Bending facts to only feeds the opposition’s ability to counter you and change the mind of those who are on the fence.



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