Have you ever wondered what it’s like to delve deep within a South African cave to discover and recover some of the most famous ancient human fossils in scientific history?
Well, you don’t have to wonder anymore.
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science has partnered with well-known paleoanthropologist professor Lee Berger. and the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa to bring museum-goers the ability to explore the Dinaledi Cave, an archaeological site only ever seen by six people to date.
At a recent news conference, the group unveiled a free app that allows people all over the globe to virtually tour the cave that very few people have. (The app is optimized for Google cardboard but compatible with any headset.)
“As I would never be able to actually get into the Dinaledi Chamber, one of the most exciting things for me, personally, is that through the Dinaledi app I can actually see and experience what it is like to be in the Chamber where these wonderful discoveries were made,” Berger said. “And, even more exciting, I can share this first-time experience with young fossil hunters from all over the world.”
The Museum collaborated with Wits University to initially create this experience, which was brought to fruition by Dallas creative-technology company Groove Jones, for the Museum’s newly transformed Being Human Hall.
However, they also wanted to extend the VR journey beyond the walls of the Museum. Thanks to an app with narration in six languages from some of the actual explorers and scientists from Berger’s Rising Star expedition, viewers can explore and even “virtually” hold fossils from the remote cave.
The translated experiences are available on the app in English, American and European Spanish, and the African languages of isiZulu, Setswana, and Sesotho.
Additionally, as part of the Museum’s “In the Field” research initiative, Perot Museum research scientist and Becca Peixotto, director of the Center for the Exploration of the Human Journey, has returned to South Africa through Nov.18.
Peixotto and the team, including four new “underground astronauts” are returning to the Rising Star Cave system with plans to excavate a known fossil area in the Dinaledi Chamber and explore other parts of the cave. Giving real-time updates on their expedition, the team may also spend time in the lab with the collection of more than 2,000 H.naledi fossils and revisit a large mass of fossils and sediment extracted earlier this year that potentially contains dozens of remains.
To further expand learning opportunities, the Perot Museum is planning numerous outreach programs for students in North Texas and beyond as well as collaborating with National Geographic Explorer Classroom programs for and with students across the U.S., Canada, and parts of Europe.
The free-to-download app for Android and iOS devices can be found by searching for Dinaledi in the Google Play and Apple App Store.