From the archives: The scientist behind those controversial new hominin fossils

Robert Clark/National Geographic

From the archives: The scientist behind those controversial new hominin fossils

Stunning fossils of a claimed new human species have stirred up great excitement among paleoanthropologists, but some researchers have ​also flinched at the hype accompanying the unconventional excavation. The dig, which began with a Facebook call for skinny cavers who could reach the fossil chamber in a South African cave, was live-blogged and was the focus of a N​OVA/National Geographic documentary aired ​on public television ​in the United States​ Wednesday night. This isn’t the first time the man behind the discovery, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, has combined spectacular fossil finds with a rapid, popularizing style of analysis that has grated on his peers. ​In 2008, he discovered the most complete skeleton yet published of an ancient ​African ​hominin, 2-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba. But some critics said efforts to consider Au. sediba a possible ancestor of our genus Homo were misguided, and that a previous National Geographic video special on tiny skeletons from Southeast Asia exaggerated those bones’ importance. Why is this enthusiastic paleontologist so controversial? Find out in this story: Paleoanthropologist Now Rides High on a New Fossil Tide (Science, 9 September 2011, p.1373).