The Witwatersrand excavation team was able to recover specimens found of the ancient Homo naledi species in the Dinaledi chamber of the Rising Star cave system near Johannesburg. Using 3D scanning, a recovery project that would have taken decades had been accomplished in a few weeks.
Due to the challenging location and concerns of rising water degrading the discovery, the team decided to accurately capture the site using Artec’s handheld 3D scanner and software. A total of 1,550 specimens were digitalised in just five weeks.
The expedition to recover Homo naledi was led by Professor Lee Berger, Research Professor in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science at the University of the Witwatersrand. Upon learning about the site in 2013, Professor Berger knew studying it would be a challenge due to the shallow depth and small size of the cave’s pathways, as well as the width of the actual chamber. Artec’s Eva light-based, handheld scanner provided the necessary portability and ease-of-use to make documentation possible in high resolution and full texture.
Using the Artec Eva within the cave system, the team was able to scan a desired area, produce a visualization of the environment and fossil locations, and transmit that information to the team above ground.
“I was amazed at how simple and accurate such a high-level technology could be in less than ideal conditions,” said Ashley Kruger, paleontologist at Wits University. “The team learned how to use the scanners in just under an hour. Using this technology significantly sped up the entire recovery process, reducing some tasks that would have taken hours to minutes. With projects like this, the bones have to be documented on their own as well as in relation to the excavation site. Normally, this involves manually recording fossil locations and cross referencing with an established grid. Artec’s technology was able to streamline this process immensely, despite extremely challenging and limiting conditions.”
The Rising Star project is still underway, as the team continues to analyse the data and determine its larger implications for human history. Published work focused on the project’s use of 3D data, technology and methods is expected to be released this year.