In his first years in South Africa, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger made the first major finds in the region in almost half a century. He became one of the youngest men in his field to lead a major research institute. In 1997, he received the first National Geographic Society Prize for Research and Exploration for his studies of human evolution.
But ten years later, exploration in Southern Africa had come to a halt. Berger's colleagues believed the fossil fields were exhausted, that everything worth finding had already been found. When Lee Berger reviewed aerial photography of the region made newly available on the Internet, he saw things his peers had missed. The existing fossil sites fell into a pattern that suggested the existence of unexplored caves and potential sites for further exploration.
Berger's subsequent visits to the area proved his surmise correct. The terrain was riddled with unexplored caves and other possible excavation sites. In 2008, Lee Berger uncovered multiple specimens of a previously unknown species of hominid, a possible link between the apelike Australopithecus and our own remote ancestors. Today, he leads his profession, and his discoveries continue to cast new light on the origins of humankind.