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Rising star

- Wits University

Biography: Professor Lee Berger is an award-winning researcher, explorer, author and speaker and a Wits alumnus.

Berger is the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s first Prize for Research and Exploration and the Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award. His work has brought him recognition as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and the South African Academy of Sciences and 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, amongst many other positions.

He is a South African ambassador for tourism, conventions and business events and has been awarded several humanitarian awards including the Boy Scout Medal of Honour for saving a life and the Red Cross Certificate of Merit. In addition, his efforts in conservation have been recognised 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 contribution to the 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 more than 200 scholarly and popular works including more than 100 refereed papers and a number of academic and popular books on palaeontology, natural history, and exploration. His work has been featured three times on the cover of Science, and has been named in the top 100 science stories of the year by Time, Scientific American and Discover magazine on numerous occasions.

He has appeared in many television documentaries on subjects related to archaeology, palaeoanthropology and natural history. Berger is an internationally recognised proponent of open access science and open sourcing.

He has founded the 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 the Director of both the Malapa site and the Rising Star excavations, the latter resulting in the discovery of the largest primitive hominin assemblage in history.

Berger is presently the Research Professor in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science at Wits University and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. He is also the Division Director of Palaeoanthropology in the Evolutionary Studies Institute. He holds a PhD in palaeoanthropology and a Doctor of Science degree in the same field.