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she blinded me with science

There’s An All-Female Team of Spelunking Scientists Making Amazing Discoveries Right This Very Moment

A veritable treasure trove of prehistoric bones is discovered. A small team is needed to retrieve what could be evidence of a new human ancestor. The chosen few have to be scientists and experienced cavers. Of the 57 applicants, six were selected for this highly dangerous mission. And they all just so happen to be women.

Female Scientist Avengers: Assemble!

An all-female team of spelunking scientists—God, I love that sentence—has ventured into the depths of a cave 25 miles north of Johannesburg, South Africa and brought to the surface hundreds of fossils, including a skull fragment from what paleoanthropologists believe could be a new group of hominins. Recreational cavers initially discovered the prehistoric haul and got in touch with National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger, who helped put together the Rising Star Expedition. But the six people actually venturing into the cave can’t just have scientific know-how. Says Berger of these “underground astronauts”:

“They had to be masters of phDs in paleontology, archaeology, or a related science. They had to have field experience, they had to have caving experience, and they had to be able to fit through an eighteen centimeter space. It ended up that the most qualified human beings on the planet to do this very dangerous, very remarkable job were young women. And they’re gonna go down and they’re gonna recover what I hope are some of the most extraordinary human ancestor fossils ever found.”

Your female scientist Avengers are Lindsay EavesMarina ElliottElen FeuerriegelAlia GurtovHannah Morris, and Becca Peixotto.

Says Elliot:

”It’s still a dangerous environment despite all the prep that we’ve done, and the more comfortable we feel the better. I’m just tickled pink to be here. It’s amazing. The chance of a lifetime.”

Gurtov, a University of Wisconsin grad student, “hominin behavioral analyst,” and “avid sci-fi reader” (pause for swooning), has even been Tweeting about the expedition:

There’s no word yet on the evolutionary origin of the 200-some fossils—including a cranium and part of a jawbone—retrieved so far; according to Berger a paper will probably be published in late 2014. But the expedition has also yielded a more immediate benefit. Writes the University of Wisconsin’s John Hawks, one of the team’s leaders:

“I’ve had an extraordinary number of new fossils pass through my hands in the last four days. But here’s what finally brought me to tears: Our young scientists and cavers running up to the command center, cranking up the generator, so they could do a spontaneous Skype call to a third grade class in Rhode Island.”

No, I’m not crying. I just have something in my eye. And it’s SCIENCE.

(NBC News, via Skepchick)

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  • Wendy Whipple

    This is exciting stuff! But I admit it: I can’t think metrically, I had to double-check on a ruler about just how big 18cm is (knew it wasn’t much). That’s basically 7 inches. Claustrophobic yet? Yikes!

  • Adrian

    No revealsies! And no take-backs!

  • inLaurasWords

    I did the same. My next thought was: They’re all skinny women, there will be a movie made about this some day!

  • River

    I’m trying to figure out what part of any woman’s body will fit in a 7 inch space?

  • Lizikins

    I did a double-take as well! I’m a small woman and I don’t think I could fit through that small of a space. Claustrophobia indeed; it’s giving me the creeps just thinking about it!

  • Anonymous

    I’m thinking that it is a crevice/slice in the wall or floor. You turn your body sideways, flush, and shimmy/squeeze sideways through it. If they have to crawl, say, headfirst on their bellies through such a space, then I’ll be even more creeped out by how much more claustrophobic that would be to me.

  • Katrina

    I always have wanted to go spelunking ever since I learned what it meant from Carmen Sandiego! These ladies are such badasses!

  • Anonymous

    Well, there’s always “The Descent”… ok, so they weren’t scientists… and things didn’t exactly turn out well for the group…

  • Patrick Holt
  • Lowprices

    I want to say something perceptive here, but since everything I know about archaeology comes from Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider and Spelunky, it’s probably best I just wish the Ladies well on their quest to do Adventure-Science.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t this basically the premise of “The Descent”? Should be we be concerned for them?

  • brilance

    Nat Geo has an excellent ongoing series of blog posts and videos about this expedition. I may or may not have definitely spent far too much time looking through them today.

  • Saraquill

    There’s a similar premise with the book series “Rocket Girls.” The smaller the person, the smaller the rocket and less fuel needed to send them into space. The astronauts are all girls under 5 feet and 110 pounds.

  • Saraquill