Lee Berger’s discovery of a new human ancestor, Homo naledi, changed our understanding of humanity’s history and made front-page news around the world. Berger’s new book, ALMOST HUMAN: The Astonishing Tale of Homo naledi and the Discovery That Changed Our Human Story (National Geographic; on sale May 9, 2017; ISBN 978-1-4262-1811-8; 240 pages; $26) is the incredible first-person account of that discovery—written with co-author and collaborator John Hawks—and a behind-the-scenes look at Berger’s life’s work, culminating with the reveal of new scientific findings from his ongoing research:
- The age of Homo naledi has been identified: 200,000 to 300,000 years old!
The expectation had been 2 million years old – a huge surprise and the start of many fascinating questions: Could homo naledi have coexisted with our direct ancestors? Once upon a time, could its DNA have merged with our own?
- A second, discrete cave chamber in the Rising Star complex has been discovered and explored, with another Homo naledi skeleton found inside!
** These findings and others will be published in the journal eLife under embargo on Tuesday, May 9.
In 2013, Lee Berger, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and now a 2016 Time 100 Pioneer, put out a call around the world for petite collaborators, men and women of science small and adventurous enough to be able to squeeze through eight-inch tunnels to reach a sunless cave 40 feet underground. With this team of “underground astronauts,” Berger made the discovery of a lifetime: hundreds of prehistoric bones, including entire skeletons of at least 15 individuals. Their features combined those of known prehominids like Lucy, the famous Australopithecus, with those more human than anything ever before seen in prehistoric remains. Berger’s team had discovered the richest primitive hominid site ever and an all-new species, which they named Homo naledi.
These findings—from 2013 and 2017—are chockful of implications that shake the very foundation of how we define what makes us human. Did this species come before, during or after the emergence of Homo sapiens on our evolutionary tree? How did the caves come to contain nothing but the remains of these individuals? Did they bury their dead? If so, they must have had a level of self-knowledge, including an awareness of death. And yet those are the very characteristics used to define what makes us human. Did an equally advanced species inhabit Earth with us, or before us?
Berger does not hesitate to address all of these questions.
About Lee Berger
Lee Berger is the Research Professor in Human Origins and the Public Understanding of Science at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. He was a founder of the Palaeoanthropological Scientific Trust, today the largest nonprofit organization in Africa supporting research into human origins. The director of one of the largest paleontological projects in history, leading over 100 researchers in investigations of the Malapa site in South Africa, Berger is the author of more than 200 scholarly and popular works. His research 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 numerous occasions. Berger has appeared in many television documentaries on subjects related to archaeology, paleoanthropology, and natural history, and has appeared widely on television and radio, including NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Morning Edition, and All Things Considered and PBS’s News Hour and Alan Alda’s Scientific American Frontiers. Berger was named one of Timemagazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015 and 2016’s Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year.
About John Hawks
John Hawks is the Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. He is the author of a widely read paleoanthropology blog, johnhawks.net. Hawks graduated from Kansas State University in 1994 with degrees in French, English, and anthropology. He received both his M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan. After working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Utah, he moved to the University of Wisconsin—Madison, where he is currently a member of the anthropology department, teaching courses including human evolution, biological anthropology, and hominid paleoecology.
About National Geographic Partners LLC
National Geographic Partners LLC (NGP), a joint venture between National Geographic and 21st Century Fox, is committed to bringing the world premium science, adventure and exploration content across an unrivaled portfolio of media assets. NGP combines the global National Geographic television channels (National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Nat Geo MUNDO, Nat Geo PEOPLE) with National Geographic’s media and consumer-oriented assets, including National Geographic magazines; National Geographic studios; related digital and social media platforms; books; maps; children’s media; and ancillary activities that include travel, global experiences and events, archival sales, licensing and e-commerce businesses. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for 129 years, and now we are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, going further for our consumers … and reaching over 730 million people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages every month as we do it. NGP returns 27 percent of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education. For more information visit natgeotv.com or nationalgeographic.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
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