Lee Rogers Berger

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Lee Berger
Lee Berger and sediba skeleton.jpg
Lee Berger with A. sediba model
Born (1965-12-22) December 22, 1965 (age 50)
Shawnee Mission, Kansas, US
Fields National Geographic Explorer and Paleoanthropologist
Institutions University of the Witwatersrand
Alma mater
Thesis Functional morphology of the hominoid shoulder, past and present. (1994)
Doctoral advisor Phillip V. Tobias
Spouse Jacqueline Berger
Children Megan, Matthew

Lee Rogers Berger (born December 22, 1965) is a paleoanthropologist, physical anthropologist and archeologist and is best known for his[citation needed] discovery of Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba, the excavation of Rising Star Cave, his work on Australopithecus africanus body proportions and the Taung Bird of Prey Hypothesis.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Berger was born in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, in 1965 but was raised outside of Sylvania, Georgia in the United States.[2] As a youth he was active in student politics and president of Georgia 4-H, involved in Future Farmers of America and Georgia Youth Conservationist of the Year for his work in conserving the endangered Gopher tortoise. He is a Golden Plate Awardee of the Academy of Achievement. He is an Eagle Scout and received the Boy Scouts of America Honor Medal for saving a life in 1987.[3][self-published source]

He graduated from Georgia Southern University in 1989 with a degree in Anthropology/Archaeology and a minor in Geology.

He undertook doctoral studies in palaeo-anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa under Professor Phillip Tobias, focusing his research on the shoulder girdle of early hominids and graduated in 1994. In 1991 he began his long term work at the Gladysvale site. This marked the same year that his team discovered the first early hominid remains from the site, making this the first new early hominid site discovered in southern Africa since 1948. In 1993 he was appointed to the position of research officer in the Paleo-Anthropology Research Unit (PARU) at the university.

Research career[edit]

He became a postdoctoral research fellow and research officer at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1995. He has been the leader of the Palaeoanthropology Research Group and has taken charge of fossil hominin excavations, including Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Gladysvale. In 2004 he was promoted to Reader in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science. He is presently a research professor in the same topic at the Evolutionary Studies Institute and the Centre of Excellence in PalaeoSciences at Wits University.

Research and other activities[edit]

Organizational offices[edit]

Berger served as Executive Officer of the Palaeo-Anthropological Scientific Trust from 1994–2001 and now acts as scientific advisor to the Trust.[citation needed] He was also a founding Trustee of the Jane Goodall Trust South Africa.[citation needed] Berger served on the committee for successful application for World Heritage Site Status for the UNESCO Sterkfontein, Swartkans, Kromdraai, and Environs site,[citation needed] and served on the Makapansgat site development committee,[citation needed] and on the committee for it and the Taung sites application for World Heritage site status.[citation needed]

Berger served with the Royal Society of South Africa, Northern Branch, between 1996 and 1998, and served as Secretary in 1996 and 1997,[citation needed] and served on the Fulbright Commission, South Africa, chairing it in 2005, and chairing its Program Review Committee from 2002–2004.[citation needed]

Specific study results[edit]

Palau fossils[edit]

Berger was lead author of a controversial report of the discovery of what he and colleagues claimed were small-bodied humans in Palau, Micronesia in 2006.[4][non-primary source needed][5] Scholars have disputed the argument that these individuals are pygmoid in stature, or that they were the result of insular dwarfism;[6] in an article entitled "Small Scattered Fragments Do Not a Dwarf Make," anthropologists Scott M. Fitzpatrick (NC State), Greg C. Nelson (University of Oregon), and Geoffrey Clark (Australian National University) conclude that "[p]rehistoric Palauan populations were normal-sized and exhibit traits that fall within the normal variation for Homo sapiens," hence, concluding that their evidence did "not support the claims by Berger et al. (2008) that there were smaller-bodied populations living in Palau or that insular dwarfism took place…"[7][non-primary source needed] Berger and co-authors Churchill and De Klerk replied to the study, saying "the logical flaws and misrepresentations in Fitzpatrick and coworker’s paper are too numerous to discuss in detail" and that their restudy report "amounts to a vacuous argument from authority... and ad hominem assault, and brings little new data to bear on the question of body size and skeletal morphology in early Palauans."[8][non-primary source needed] John Hawks, the paleoanthropologist who edited the original Berger article for PLoS ONE, has replied in part to some of the dissenting researchers' claims (in his personal web blog).[9]

Discovery of Australopithecus sediba[edit]

Berger displays the fossilized bones of Australopithecus sediba he discovered at the Malapa Fossil Site

In 2008 near Malapa cave 9-year-old Matthew Berger, the son of Lee Rogers Berger, found and carried out embedded in stone a clavicle and a jawbone.[10]

As Hanna Devlin of The Times writes,

A species of early human has been discovered in a South African cave, shedding light on a critical period during which our ancestors began to walk upright, use tools and develop a capacity for language. Scientists say the two-million-year-old fossilised skeleton is from a previously unknown type of hominid, the evolutionary branch of primates that led to humans. The new species could be an intermediate stage between ape-like hominids and the first species of advanced humans, Homo habilis. The child’s skeleton and bones belonging to several adults were found by experts from the University of the Witwatersrand. Lee Berger and his colleagues made the discovery while exploring cave systems in the Sterkfontein area, near Johannesburg.[11][verification needed] [12][better source needed]


Lee Berger giving a tour at the Gladysvale Cave site in 2006.
Lee Berger receiving the 1st National Geographic Prize for Research and Exploration in Washington, D.C. in 1997. Pictured Left to Right: Vernita Berger (mother in law), Arthur B. Berger (grandfather), Lee Berger, Arthur L. Berger (father), Jacqueline Berger (wife)

Berger is a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and serves on the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Young Academy. In 1997 he was appointed to an adjunct professorial position in the Department of Biological Anthropology and Anatomy at Duke University in Durham North Carolina and the following year as an honorary assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas. Four times collaborative research papers have been recognized as being among the top 100 Science stories of the year by Discover Magazine, an international periodical focusing on popular scientific issues. The first recognition came in 1995 for his co-authored work with Ron Clarke of Wits on the taphonomy of the Taung site and in 1998 for his co-authored work with Henry McHenry of the University of California, Davis on limb lengths in Australopithecus africanus.

He is a National Press Photographers Association Humanitarian Award winner in 1987 for throwing his camera down while working as a news photographer for television station WTOC and jumping into the Savannah River to save a drowning woman.[13] His work in exploration and in human evolutionary studies has been covered in numerous international magazine feature articles and no less than twenty major international television documentaries.[peacock term] In 1997, the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. awarded him the 1st National Geographic Society Prize for Research and Exploration given for his research into human evolution. The citation on the awards reads:

In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the increase of geographic knowledge through his accomplishments in the field of palaeoanthropology. In the study of the origins of humanity Berger has epitomized the Society’s mission to seek new knowledge of our world. It is the Society’s desire to recognize both his past accomplishments and future potential in one of the most demanding of all the anthropological disciplines.[this quote needs a citation]

Personal life[edit]

Berger has resided in South Africa since 1989. His wife Jacqueline is a radiologist in the medical school at the University of the Witwatersrand, the same university where he works.[14] They have a son, Matthew,[14] and a daughter, Megan.

Selected publications[edit]

Over one hundred scientific and popular articles including several books:



  • Redrawing the family tree? (National Geographic Press, 1998)
  • Visions of the Past (Vision. End. Wild. Trust, 1999)
  • Towards Gondwana Alive: promoting biodiversity and stemming the sixth extinction (Gondwana Alive Soc. Press, 1999)
  • In The Footsteps of Eve[2] (with Brett Hilton-Barber) (National Geographic, 2001)
  • The Official Field Guide to the Cradle of Humankind, with Brett Hilton-Barber (Struik, 2002). For a review, visit [1]
  • Change Starts in Africa (in South Africa the Good News) (S.A. Good News Publishing, 2002)
  • Working and Guiding in the Cradle of Humankind (Prime Origins Publishing and The South African National Lottery, 2005)
  • Berger, Lee; Hilton-Barber, Brett (2002). The Official Field Guide to the Cradle of Humankind: Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and Environs World Heritage Site. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. ISBN 1868727394. 
  • The Concise Guide to Kruger (Struik, 2007)
  • Berger, Lee; Aronson, Marc Aronson (2012). The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins. National Geographic Society. ISBN 1426310536. 

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Berger, LR; Clarke, RJ (1995). "Eagle involvement in accumulation of the Taung child fauna" (PDF). Journal of Human Evolution 29: 275; 299. 
  2. ^ a b Bascomb, Bobby (10 Sep 2015). "Archaeology’s Disputed Genius". Nova Next. 
  3. ^ Berger, Lee R. (2007). "Biographical Sketch of Prof. Lee R. Berger" (PDF). www.profleeberger.com. self. Retrieved 10 September 2015. [self-published source]
  4. ^ Berger, Lee R., Steven E. Churchill, Bonita De Klerk & Rhonda L. Quinn (March 2008). "Small-Bodied Humans from Palau, Micronesia". PLoS ONE 3 (3): e1780. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001780. PMC 2268239. PMID 18347737. [non-primary source needed]
  5. ^ John Noble Wilford (March 11, 2008). "Discovery Challenges Finding of a Separate Human Species". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 September 2015. 
  6. ^ Dalton, Rex (April 16, 2008). "Archaeology: Bones, isles and videotape". News Feature. Nature 452: 806–808. doi:10.1038/452806a. Retrieved 10 September 2015. (subscription required (help)). Subtitle: Old human remains found on the Pacific islands of Palau are caught in the crossfire between entertainment and science. Rex Dalton reports. 
  7. ^ Fitzpatrick, Scott M., Greg C. Nelson & Geoffrey Clark (August 27, 2008). "Small Scattered Fragments Do Not a Dwarf Make: Biological and Archaeological Data Indicate that Prehistoric Inhabitants of Palau Were Normal Sized". PLoS ONE 3 (8): e3015. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003015. 
  8. ^ Fitzpatrick, Scott M., Greg C. Nelson & Geoffrey Clark (December 11, 2008). "Reader Comments: The Small-Bodied Early Inhabitants of Palau, comment in response to Small Scattered Fragments Do Not a Dwarf Make: Biological and Archaeological Data Indicate that Prehistoric Inhabitants of Palau Were Normal Sized". PLoS ONE 3 (12): e3015. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003015. 
  9. ^ Hawks, John (2008). "john hawks weblog: What about Palau? (13 March)". johnhawks.net. Homo erectus, Flores. Retrieved 10 September 2015. 
  10. ^ Maugh II, Thomas H. (2010). "2-Million-Year-Old Fossils Offer Look at Human Evolution". News. Los Angeles Times (9 April). Retrieved 10 September 2015. Subtitle: Scientists say the skeletons of a woman and boy could be one of the most important finds of recent times. A discovery by a 9-year-old led to finding the pair, dubbed Australopithecus sediba. 
  11. ^ Devlin, Hannah (2010). "Bones in South African Cave Establish New Link in Chain of Mankind". The Times (5 April) (London, GBR). Archived from the original on 2015. Retrieved 10 September 2015. (subscription required (help)). Subtitle: A species of early human has been discovered in a South African cave, shedding light on a critical period during which our ancestors began to walk upright, use tools and develop a capacity for language. 
  12. ^ Ebmeier, Jochen (2010). "Missing link? From The Times, April 5, 2010 — bones in south african cave establish new link in chain of mankind — By Hannah Devlin". jochen ebmeier's weblog [Trotzki und wilde Orchideen] (5 April) (self). Retrieved 10 September 2015. 
  13. ^ Walston, Charles (1986). "TV cameraman on story rescues woman in river". State News. The Atlanta Journal (September 19) (Atlanta, GA, USA). p. B/1. Retrieved 10 September 2015. [better source needed]
  14. ^ a b "Dawn of Humanity", NOVA (PBS), 16 September 2015 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]