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Special Lecture

Lee R. Berger, (University of the Witwatersrand and Explorer in Residence, The National Geographic Society) - Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba – discoveries highlighting the complexity of human origins
When Nov 14, 2017
from 04:30 PM to 05:30 PM
Where McDonald Institute Seminar Room, Courtyard Building, Downing Street
Contact Name
Attendees All welcome
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Four nearly five decades discoveries in Africa have supported a relatively straightforward picture of human evolution, with primitive australopiths giving rise to more derived forms, eventually giving rise to the genus Homo some two to three million years ago.  The rare fossil record relating to the emergence and evolution of the genus Homo again supported a relatively straightforward story, with more primitive members of the lineage such as Homo habilis giving rise to more derived forms such as Homo erectus. Although based on few well dated fossils, studies of the last million years of African hominin evolution suggested that Africa was occupied by a single, large brained evolving lineage that would give rise to Homo sapiens around 250,000 years ago. The archaeological record similarly was interpreted as relatively simple, paralleling this fossil record, with a gradual increase in complexity from the earliest stone tools to the emergence of the so called “infinite toolkit” in the late Middle Pleistocene being seen as a supporting record. Recent fossil discoveries across the Old World  and Africa however, are challenging this simplistic view of our lineages evolutionary history. Supported by studies of modern and ancient DNA, the emerging story seems anything but straightforward. In particular, subequatiorial Africa has provided a rich, and surprising record of fossil hominin discoveries that challenge uncomplicated views of human evolution, and potentially challenge the association of the known archaeological record with individual species. This talk will explore the latest discoveries out of subequatorial Africa, including the latest fossils associated with Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba, and discuss how these and other finds may challenge commonly held views of human origins, and the associated archaeological record.



Prof. Lee R. Berger Ph.D. D.Sc. FRSSAf ASSAf FRGS is an award-winning researcher, explorer, author and speaker. He is the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s first Prize for Research and Exploration and the Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award.  He has been recognized by Time Magazine in 2016 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.   His work has brought him recognition as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, the South African Academy of Sciences and the Royal Geographical Society. He has held prominent advisory positions including the Chairmanship of the Fulbright Commission of South Africa, the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Young Academy and the Centre of Excellence in PalaeoSciences of South Africa among many others. He is a South African Ambassador for Tourism, Conventions and Business Events. He has been awarded several humanitarian awards including the Boy Scout Medal of Honor for saving a life and the Red Cross Certificate of Merit. In addition his efforts in conservation have been recognized by the William T. Hornaday Award and Georgia’s Youth Conservationist of the Year.

His explorations into human origins on the African continent, Asia and Micronesia for the past two and a half decades have resulted in many new discoveries, including the discovery of two new species of early human relatives – Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi.  His contributions to exploration sciences have also resulted in advances in the field of applied exploration methods and the application of technology to exploration, excavation and discovery.

He is the author of numerous scholarly and popular works.  His work has been featured three times on the cover of Science, and has been named among the top 100 science stories of the year by Time, Scientific American and Discover Magazine on a number of occasions. He has appeared in many television documentaries on subjects related to archaeology, palaeoanthropology and natural history. Berger is an international recognized proponent of open access science and open sourcing.

He has founded the not for profit Lee R. Berger Foundation for Exploration and was a founder of the Palaeoanthropological Scientific Trust and a founding Trustee of the Jane Goodall Society of South Africa.  He is Director of the Hill Excavation Program, the Malapa site and Rising Star excavations, the latter resulting in the discovery of the largest primitive hominin assemblage in Africa.

He is an avid diver and adventurer and holds a PADI Divemaster certificate among many other specialties.

Berger was born in Shawnee Mission Kansas and grew up in rural Georgia.  He was awarded his Eagle Scout in 1983 achieving his silver and gold palms and has been recognized as a Distinguished Eagle Scout by the Eagle Scouts Association of America. He was a co-author of the BSA’s Exploration Merit Badge launched in 2017.

Berger is presently the incumbent Phillip Tobias Chair in Palaeoanthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and an Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society. He is also the Division Director of Palaeoanthropology in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand. He holds a Ph.D. in palaeoanthropology and a Doctor of Science in the same field.

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