If a "couple of years" from discovery to publication sounds like a long time to you, you probably haven't been paying very close attention to paleoanthropology. A couple of years is absolutely lightning fast, especially given the volume of materials that have come out of the cave. The Rising Star project has the potential to be remarkable because of both the information it will provide (whatever that is) and the way it was done. The approach that Lee Berger and colleagues took -- quick analysis and publication and the involvement of many early career scientists -- provides a model of a new way of doing things. I hope that the results are spectacular and make plain the utility of fast-tracking fossil finds and making the process accessible.
Another "new" thing in anthropology that is generating buzz today is the announcement of the planned launch of SAPIENS in January of 2016. According the website,
"SAPIENS is an editorially independent online publication of the Wenner-Gren Foundation dedicated to popularizing anthropological research to a worldwide audience. Through news coverage, features, commentaries, reviews, photo essays, and more, SAPIENS will share the field’s most exciting, relevant, thought-provoking, and unconventional ideas."
Anthropology needs more active engagement with the public, and I hope this turns out to be as good as it sounds. I do not believe anthropologists are using nearly all of the available tools that we have to communicate to the public what it is that we do. I hope that this adds one.
On the "out with the old" side, National Geographic announced today that it is shifting to for-profit status. To me, this seems like a natural step in the ongoing degradation of the National Geographic brand. Remember the hub-bub over the National Geographic program Diggers? And then yesterday I read this National Geographic piece titled "7 Ancient Mysteries Archaeologists Will Solve This Century." Most of the "mysteries" involved things like finding lost cities, excavating the tombs of famous people, or figuring out the Nazca lines. It's a piece that feeds into numerous misconceptions about what it is that most archaeologists actually do, celebrating the spectacular, headline-grabbing discovery rather than the actual systematic attempt to use material evidence to understand truly important questions about the human past. That's a bummer coming from National Geographic. How long will it be until we see them producing sensational content so that they can compete with the fake documentaries about mermaids on Discovery and the ancient aliens on History?
The ways in which science is done and communicated to the public are changing. I've got my fingers crossed that we're going to start doing some things differently. And I can't wait to see what came out of the Rising Star Cave.