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World's Greatest Living Paleoanthropologist in School

Monday, 14 November 2011

Bolton School was delighted to welcome the "world's greatest living Paleoanthropologist", Professor Lee Berger, as he delivered his lecture "Out of Africa…in Search of the Missing Link."  A privileged audience of members from the Bolton Lads and Girls' Club, Warrington Youth Club and the Bolton School community were mesmerised by the story of how, in 2008, he and his curious 9 year old son, Matthew, discovered two remarkably well preserved, two-million-year-old fossils of an adult female and young male, known as Australopithecus sediba.  It is quite possible that they were mother and son.  

Their discovery has been hailed as one of the most important archaeological discoveries in history.  The fossils reveal what may be one of humankind's oldest ancestors - a previously unknown species of ape-like creatures that may have been a direct ancestor of modern humans.  The new species fills the gap between "Lucy" the world's most famous human ancestor dating back 3 million years and Homo erectus.  The talk focused on the discovery of the fossils, assisted by Google Earth images of the Malapa caves just outside Johannesburg, and the ongoing work which involves 88 scientists and is the largest archaeological dig on earth.  Berger believes the skeletons they found could be the "Rosetta stone that unlocks our understanding of the genus Homo"and may just redesign the human family tree.  

Professor Berger concluded by reminding the audience that the lesson from his find is that there is much yet to be discovered in the world.  The fact that he unearthed the fossils in one of the most explored areas on the planet, known as the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site,  reinforces to us all that we must look again and more closely at our world in order to discover new things. 

Berger, an Eagle Scout and National Geographic Grantee, is currently on a world tour with the National Geographic.  He is the Reader in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science in the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Professor Lee Berger at Bolton School

Professor Lee Berger delivers an engrossing presentation. On screen is an artist's impression of how the species that he discovered may have looked.

Lee Berger, Marc Tillotson, Dave Watkinson

Professor Lee Berger, left, is greeted by Head of Biology in the Boys' Division, Mr Marc Tillotson and Head of Outdoor Pursuits, Mr Dave Watkinson