Lee Berger

Professor Lee Rogers Berger, also known as "Rod" when he was growing up in Sylvania, Georgia was born in Mission Hills, Kansas in 1965 but grew up in Georgia in the United States but has lived in South Africa since 1989 and has been a Permanent Resident of South Africa since 1993.


Berger is a paleoanthropologist, physical anthroplogist and archeologist and is best known for his work on Australopithecus africanus body proportions and the Taung child/Taung Bird of Prey Hypothesis. He attended high school at Screven County High in Sylvania Georgia where he graduated as Star Student in 1984. He attended Vanderbilt University in 1984, East Georgia College in 1987 and he graduated from Georgia Southern University in 1989 with a degree in Anthropology/Archaeology and a minor in Geology.

After working briefly at Lake Turkana in Kenya, he moved to South Africa in late 1989 to undertake doctoral studies in palaeo-anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand under Professor Phillip Tobias, focusing his research on the shoulder girdle of early hominids. In 1991 he was appointed a Junior Research Officer in the Paleo-Anthropology Research Unit (PARU) and the Department of Anatomy and Human Biology where he assisted with such excavations as Sterkfontein and Taung and ran the fossil laboratory.

That same year 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 PARU. He received his doctorate in 1994 presenting a thesis entitled The functional morphology of the hominoid shoulder girdle, past and present.

Working History
He was promoted to a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Research Officer at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1995, to a Senior Research Officer in the Faculty of Medicine in 1996, and then as a Senior Research Officer in the Faculty of Science in 2000. He was, in the same period, twice promoted by the Research Office of the University. First to the position of Leader of the Palaeoanthropology Research Group in 1997, in charge of fossil hominin excavations including Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Gladysvale, and then to the position of Director of the Palaeoanthropology Unit for Research and Exploration in 1999. In 2004 he was promoted ad hominin to a Personal Professorship as Reader in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science.

Internationally, his academic work was recognized by two honorary appointments at major international universities. 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. Recognition of his research in the form of awards and citation has also been forthcoming. Twice 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 Prof. Ron Clarke of Wits on the taphonomy of the Taung site and in 1998 for his co-authored work with Prof. Henry McHenry of the University of California, Davis on limb lengths in Australopithecus africanus.

He was an Eagle Scout and Boy Scouts of America Honor Medal Winner in 1987 and has extensive training in lifesaving and medical anatomy. 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. He has most recently been featured in National Geographic’s Naked Science series, National Geographic Channel’s Ultimate Survivor which premiered in March 2005 and Ancient Enemies with acclaimed Director/Producer Derrick Joubert.

He is presently filming and hosting a thirteen-part international television series on fossils, exploration and fossil hunting. In 1997 he received the Alumnus of the Year award in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences from Georgia Southern University. In 1999 he was awarded the 1st Friedel Sellschop Award for Young Researchers. 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 groundbreaking 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 Prof. 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”. 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 Tortiose.

Research and other activities
Over the past five years he has been principle investigator or co-principle investigator on grants totaling in excess of US$ 3 million , including grants from the National Geographic Society, the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Palaeo-Anthropological Scientific Trust. He served as Executive Officer of the Palaeo-Anthropological Scientific Trust from 1994 - 2001 and now acts as scientific advisor to the Trust, he was a founding Trustee of the Jane Goodall Trust South Africa and served on the Committee for successful application for World Heritage Site Status for the UNESCO Sterkfontein, Swartkans, Kromdraai and Environs site. He also served on the committee for application of the Makapansgat and Taung sites for World Heritiage site status and Makapansgat site development committee. He also served on the committee of the Royal Society of South Africa, Northern Branch between 1996 and 1998 and served as Secretary in 1996 and 1997. He served on the Fulbright Commission, South Africa and was Chair of the Program Review Committee from 2002 - 2004 and was Chairman for 2005.

He has given hundreds of public lectures on human evolution world-wide and has given invited lectures at both the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. and the Royal Geographical Society in London and to the UN Secretary General and the United Nations Delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

He has published in most major journals in the field including the Journal of Human Evolution, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and Nature and his research has stimulated debate and review in both Nature and Science. He has acted as a referee for the Journal of Human Evolution, Nature, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the South African Journal of Science and Palaeontologia africana where he serves as an associate editor. He has over 50 refereed publications, 21 books or theses, and over 70 other publications to his name.

His students have been awarded numerous prizes including the Gold Medal for the Best Masters produced in South Africa in the year 2000 by the South African Association for the Advancement of Science.

His present research activities include involvement as PI, Co-PI or senior collaborator on numerous excavations and exploratory projects around southern Africa including the following:

Survey of Botswana and South Africa for the National Geographic Society
Kwando, Botswana megafauna study
Drimolin cave excavations
Gladysvale cave excavations (in collaboration with the University of Zurich)
Coopers cave excavations
Motsetsi cave excavations
Plovers lake excavations
Bolts farm excavations (in collaboration with the University of Pretoria and the Transvaal Mus.)
Taphonomic studies within the John Nash Nature Reserve
Kromdraai cave excavations (in collaboration with the Transvaal Museum)
Hoedjiespunt excavations (in collaboration with the University of Cape Town)
Free State survey (in collaboration with the National Museum Bloemfontein, Duke University and the University of Arkansas)
Palau, Micronesia
Survey of Zimbabwe.

He is a Life Member of the Eagle Scouts Association of the Boy Scouts of America and a member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. He is an avid advanced diver, Master Scuba diver and PADI Divemaster with hundreds of recreational, research and technical dives to his credit.

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