Nadeli and Sebida Travel to Texas

“Dad, I think I found a fossil!” his son yelled. The then-9-year-old stood near a rock with a yellowish, fingerlike protrusion.

Berger recognized it as a human-like collarbone, a fossil so fragile and rare that only about a half dozen have ever been found. Trying to maintain his scientific skepticism, he turned the rock over to examine it more closely and glimpsed something even more unmistakable: a jawbone with a small canine tooth.

“When I saw that sticking out of the back of the rock, I instantly knew that this was something very special,” says Berger.

Within about a year, Berger’s team had amassed one of the most complete early human relative skeletons ever assembled.

As he speaks, he is standing on this day in a small windowless room on the lower level of the Perot Museum. The cases filled with the fossils he and his son had found — and many more — sit open on countertops, their contents exposed like the insides of exotic fruit.

It turned out that his young son had found the remains of a male his own age.

The fossils belonged to a previously unknown species of early human relative that the senior Berger named Australopithecus sediba . It had lived 2 million years ago, right around the time that our own genus, Homo , first emerged. And it had an intriguing mishmash of features: a small brain, ape-like arms and heels, but human-like hands and pelvis.

That discovery alone could have made Berger’s career. But five years later, he found another new species.

Late one night, two cavers came to Berger’s house in Johannesburg and showed him photos of bones they had found as they explored a twisty span of underground pathways. Berger saw that these likely belonged to hominins — members of the human lineage that share more traits with people than with apes. He put together an international team to retrieve the finds.

The trove of fossils they brought to the surface is unprecedented in scale: They have unearthed more than 20 individuals of a species that the scientific team named Homo naledi . Like sediba , naledi was an unusual mix of ancestral and more human-like traits. However, naledi lived much more recently — 300,000 years ago.

As significant as his discoveries have been, some colleagues have criticized what they see as his penchant for publicity. Paleoanthropologists have traditionally toiled in isolation for years before disclosing their finds in peer-reviewed journals. Berger, by contrast, has live-tweeted his expeditions and allowed journalists to cover them as they happened. He does this, he says, because he believes science should be transparent and engaging, a goal he hopes to further with “Origins.”


@cwhenderson, maybe you can visit and share some pictures :).

I’d love to! I’ll have to read more about the exhibit. The drive is probably about 5 hours and would be difficult to find the time to make it. :frowning:

1 Like

Take one of your classes on a field trip! Well, I guess that would make it more difficult…

1 Like