That’s impossible here, because was the only occupant of its particular chamber, save for a bird and some assorted rodents.
If adjacent bones provide no clues, the surrounding landscape might.
Everyone from professional paleontologists to interested members of the public raised the same question: Why hadn’t the team dated the fossils yet?
The simple answer is: Because dating fossils is really difficult.
“If you've got a fossil, and it's in breccia, and there's flowstone over and under it, you've got a bracket for age,” explains Hawks.
That was certainly the case for , the hominid that Lee Berger discovered in another South African cave in 2008. It's the best-dated site in South Africa.” fossils, which should hint at their minimum age.
Flowstones aside, the team can also look for layers of magnetic minerals, like particles of iron.
The alignment of these minerals depends on the Earth's magnetic field, which has repeatedly flipped direction over the eons, so that north becomes south and vice versa.
We know a lot about the history of these reversals, which we can use to date layers of magnetic sediment.
The study of ancient DNA has repeatedly revolutionized our understanding of human evolution, revealing the presence of Neanderthal DNA in all modern humans outside Africa, and the existence of an entirely new hominin species—the Denisovans.
’s DNA would reveal its evolutionary relationships to ourselves and other ancient humans.“We're investigating it, but it’s not a hopeful scenario,” says Hawks.