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Trailblazing Archaeologist Puts South African Women in SET on the Map

South African archaeologist and biological anthropologist Keneiloe Molopyane, also known as Bones, was recently named a 2021 Emerging Explorer by the National Geographic Society. The 33-year-old first made a name for herself as a member of the second group of “underground astronauts” — so called because “we are going into spaces that very few people have gone before,” she explains. The original crew, comprised of six female scientists, garnered the world’s attention in 2015 when they helped unearth the remains of a previously unknown human species. Now called Homo naledi, the remains were found deep in the Rising Star cave system roughly an hour’s drive northwest of Johannesburg. In 2019, following her successful expedition back into the Dinaledi and Lesedi chambers of the Rising Star Cave system to unearth more Homo naledi remains, she was named the curator of the Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves Visitor Centre in the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, she leads a team there exploring a newly discovered cave known as UW 105.