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In journal Science
Alumnus among scientists in on ancestor find
Monday, Apr. 12, 2010
By Maria Ortega, WSU News Service
Alumnus Brian Kuhn with some of the remains.
PULLMAN - Brian F. Kuhn, one of the scientists who found and described the geological setting around the newly discovered hominid Australopithecus sediba, is a WSU alumnus.
In addition to the two fossils described in the journal Science on April 9, Kuhn said he discovered fossil remains of an infant hominid while preparing material associated with a false saber tooth cat. It is estimated the fossils come from an infant around 12-18 months old.
Kuhn graduated from WSU in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a 1991 bachelor’s degree in anthropology. He is a researcher for the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
He is one of the co-authors for the paper published in Science, “Geological Setting and Age of Australopithecus sediba from Southern Africa.”
“After the first clavicle was found, I was with the first scientific team to go out and evaluate the potential of the site,” said Kuhn. “It was at this time that we began discovering a lot of well preserved, articulated bovid remains and Professor Berger found the humerus of the adult skeleton protruding out of the rock face.
“My role at the site is part of the faunal identification team and leading the team of carnivore experts identifying the fossilized carnivore material," he said. "From the identification of certain species we were able to give the site faunal dates of between 1.5 and 2.36 million years old. Subsequent geological dating techniques narrowed this down to an absolute date between 1.78 and 1.95 million years old.”
After earning his degrees from WSU, Kuhn volunteered for the Peace Corps in Morocco 1994-96 and in Jordan 1997-1998. He earned a master’s degree from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, and a doctoral degree from the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
In the paper published in Science, Kuhn and his colleagues describe the conditions of the geological site where the bones of two Australopithecus sediba - one adult female and one juvenile male - were found.
Professor Lee Berger and his dog enter a cave. Photo courtesy
of Wits University.
The Malapa site, along with the hominids and animal fossils found in it, is described as a de-roofed cave that was once a series of interconnected caves and sink holes. The scientists explain how the hominids probably fell down a hole and died.
Geological evidence and the excellent preservation suggest the fossils were transported to their final resting place rapidly and within a short distance by a single debris flow.
Scientists also noted an absence of damage to the bones by predators, indicating scavenger animals did not have access to the site and the other animals probably fell by accident into the vertical shafts and died there. Animals might have been attracted to the smell of water or other decomposing animals at the bottom of the Malapa site.