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This damage is in the form of tiny marks called fission tracks.

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Kramers wanted to use uranium‑lead techniques to date South African caves and Pickering ended up doing greenfield research for her Ph D, developing a uranium‑lead dating technique for the flowstones (geological material that forms at the base of stalagmites) at three of the country’s big hominid sites: Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Cooper’s Caves.“The isotopes we work with occur in very low concentrations in the rocks we analyse.

There’s more lead in a fingerprint than in my samples, so I have to work in an ultra‑clean lab; the air heavily filtered to avoid lead pollution coming in from petrol fumes.“My role is to set up the uranium‑thorium and uranium‑lead techniques of uranium series dating in the lab here at UCT to be able to continue the work of dating the homind sites.

She’s also worked alongside international teams at archaeological and palaeoanthropological sites along the southern and western coasts of South Africa, Australia, East Africa, Armenia and the Dominican Republic.

Pickering was the lead researcher involved in dating the limestone surrounding the monkey fossils, the limestone samples travelling between the Caribbean, North America and Australia where they finally reached her.Instead, other methods are used to work out a fossil’s age.These include radiometric dating of volcanic layers above or below the fossils or by comparisons to similar rocks and fossils of known ages.This problem is now reduced by the careful collection of samples, rigorous crosschecking and the use of newer techniques that can date minute samples.Volcanic rocks – such as tuff and basalt – can be used in dating because they are formed at a particular moment in time, during an eruption.I am currently working on a new project with Edmunds that would just not be possible if it was not for their versatility as a company and the experience they have to offer in the industry.

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