Lee R. Berger

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Professor Lee Rogers Berger (born December 22, 1965), is a paleoanthropologist, physical anthropologist and archeologist and is best known for his work on Australopithecus africanus body proportions and the Taung Bird of Prey Hypothesis.


Berger was born in Shawnee Mission Kansas in 1965 but grew up in Sylvania,Georgia in the United States. He has lived in South Africa since 1989.

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 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 PARU.

Employment History

He was promoted to a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Research Officer at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1995. He has served in the position of Leader of the Palaeoanthropology Research Group, and has taken charge of fossil hominin excavations including Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Gladysvale. In 2004 he was promoted ad hominin to Reader in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science.


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 (U.S. state) and the following year as an Honorary Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the

Lee Berger giving a tour at the Gladysvale Cave site in 2006.

University of Arkansas. 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 is a National Press Photographers Association Humaniterian 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[1]. 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, 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 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.

Lee Berger recieiving 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)

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. He is an Eagle Scout and recived the Boy Scouts of America Honor Medal for saving a life in 1987.[2]

Research and other activities

During his career he has been principal investigator or co-principal investigator on extensive grants, 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 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[3]. He has over 50 refereed publications, 21 books or theses, and over 70 other publications to his name.

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.

Selected Publications

  • 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 (with Brett Hilton-Barber)(National Geographic,2001)
  • The Official Field Guide to the Cradle of Humankind (with Brett Hilton-Barber)(Struik, 2002)
  • Change Starts in Africa ( in South Africa the Good News)(S.A. Good News Publishing, 2002)
  • | Exploring Kruger (with Brett Hilton-Barber) (Prime Origins Publishing, 2004)
  • Working and Guiding in the Cradle of Humankind (Prime Origins Publishing and The South African National Lottery, 2005)
  • A Guide to Sterkfontein – the Cradle of Humankind (with Brett Hilton-Barber) (Struik, 2006)
  • The Concise Guide to Kruger (Struik, 2007)


  1. Charles Walston (1986). Atlanta Constitution article on the rescue by Rod Berger. Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved on 2007-07-27.
  2. Biographical Sketch of Prof. Lee R. Berger. Prof. Lee R. Berger (2007). Retrieved on 2007-07-11.
  3. News in Science. Science (2006). Retrieved on 2007-08-02.
  • Portions of this Article were based on Lee Berger's Published Curriculum Vitae
  • In The Footsteps of Eve (with Brett Hilton-Barber)(National Geographic,2001)

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