The Future of Exploration and a New Discovery in Human Evolution

Dec 2, 2022, 4:30 pm6:30 pm
219 Aaron Burr Hall



Event Description

Understanding where we come from as a species has been one of the great goals of humankind, exploring the questions of where we come from and why we are here as a species. In this lecture, Professor Lee Berger (the Phillip Tobias Chair in Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and an Explorer at Large for the National Geographic Society) will explore some of the greatest discoveries of the last two decades in the search for human origins, discoveries he has been instrumental in and intimately involved with. These discoveries have led us to re-evaluate the story of human origins on the continent of Africa. With lessons from what has been described as one of the most challenging sciences on earth, Berger will explore why he believes we are in the midst of the greatest age of exploration and relate the importance of lessons he has learned during his search for understanding human origins that he believes are applicable to all areas of scientific endeavor and to our daily lives.

This lecture at Princeton will be the first public lecture following the announcement of a significant discovery, a discovery involving Princeton collaboration, that that is certain to have major impact on our understanding of human origins. The audience will have the opportunity to engage with Berger and his colleagues on this discovery, and other aspects of exploration and human origins. 

Prof. Lee R. Berger PhD DSc 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, the SA Academy of Sciences Gold Medal and was the 2016 National Geographic Society’s Rolex Explorer of the Year. His work has brought him recognition as a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa, the Royal Geographical Society, the Explorers Club 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 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. He is the Honorary National President of the South African Spelaeological Association.

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.

These discoveries were recognized by the Smithsonian as among the ten most important scientific discoveries of the decade in 2020. 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. Teams under his leadership have recovered more individual hominid remains in sub-equatorial Africa over the last decade than were recovered in the previous 90 years.

He is the author of more than two hundred scholarly and popular works including more than 170 refereed publications and a number of academic and popular books on palaeontology, natural history, and exploration. His work has been recognized by Web of Science as among the top 1% of all citations. His discoveries have been featured three times on the cover of Science and has been named 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. The 2015 PBS Nova National Geographic documentary Dawn of Humanity about Berger’s discovery of Homo naledi and the Rising Star expedition was nominated for an Emmy. Berger is an international recognized proponent of open access science and open sourcing. His novel approach to inclusive science and open collaboration has given him recognition as a Pioneer in Science by the World Science Festival and in 2016 Time recognized him as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. He is a Founding Trustee of the not-for-profit Lee R. Berger Foundation for Exploration and was a founder of the Palaeoanthropological Scientific Trust as well a founding Trustee of the Jane Goodall Society of South Africa. He is Director of both the Malapa site and Rising Star excavations, the latter resulting in the discovery of the largest primitive hominin assemblage in history.

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. Berger co-authored the Boy Scouts of America Exploration Merit badge launched in 2017. Berger is a Kappa Sigma Alumnus.

Berger is presently the Phillip Tobias Chair in Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and an Explorer at Large for the National Geographic Society. His collaborative team of scientists’ numbers over 140 individuals. He holds a PhD in palaeo anthropology and a Doctor of Science in the same field.

Selected media and online links:
Dawn of Humanity

The Academy of Achievement

World Science University

New Scientist Live

Wits University lecture series – the fossil vault…

Princeton University Public Lectures