Homo naledi paper by Berger likely on DNA discovery
Lee Berger is a world-renowned evolutionary biology professor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South African. He is also the discover of both Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi. Prof. Berger has been hinting for months of major announcements to come on Homo naledi.
Dr. Berger serves as the Phillip Tobias Chair of the Evolutionary Anthropology Department at the University of Witwatersrand. (See our article by co-editor Martha Christina of South Africa, Dec. 2022, “Phillip Tobias, a retrospective on the amazing life of one of South Africa’s greatest fossil hunters.” Berger is also designated as a Worldwide Explorer by National Geographic. He is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished living paleo-anthropologists. He has authored and co-authored over 100 academic papers. (See Google Scholar).
From his Bio, Britannica:
American-born South African paleoanthropologist known for the discovery of the fossil skeletons of Australopithecus sediba, a primitive hominin species that some paleontologists believe is the most plausible link between the australopithecines (genus Australopithecus) and humans (genus Homo).
In 2013 and 2014 Berger and colleagues excavated skeletal remains from a deep recess in the Rising Star cave system near the Swartkrans World Heritage Site in South Africa. The remains totaled more than 1,500 fossil specimens belonging to a new species that he and his team named H. naledi.
In early December 2022, Dr. Berger gave a presentation/press conference at Carnegie Science Center in Washington DC. Often clad in Indiana Jones like garb, Berger has always had a flare for the dramatic. As we noted in our article about the announcement:
like the great paleo-anthropologist Louis Leakey before him, Berger has received criticism throughout the years, for being overly dramatic and even speculative of Hominin phylogenetic (tree of human origins) positioning.
At Carnegie he announced that he and his team had found hard evidence of Homo naledi’s use of fire.
From Subspecieist, Dec. 2,
Lee Berger’s stunning announcement: Evidence found of Homo naledi fire use in Rising Star cave
Finally in the chamber with one companion (who appears to be Steven Tucker), Berger explored the area. He looked up. On the roof of the chamber, were soot particles, indications of fire use.
The entire roof of the chamber where we’ve spent the last 7 years working is burnt and blackened.
Berger describes his next moments as “serendipitous.”
I then climbed out of the chamber and almost died. Literally. Took me an hour and seven minutes to get out of that chamber. Really.
“How could homo naledi deal in the dark” asks Lee Berger. Inside the chamber he realized the “roof” had blackened areas with soot particles indicating an astounding use of fire. Later his team found burnt animal bones in another chamber. “We clearly had been missing things…I don’t think they were living there, I think they were using the spaces…
Berger held the limelight for days after the stunning announcement. There was some light criticism, mainly that he should have released his findings in a published paper for peer review, other than holding a presentation/press conference. But mainly the announcement was greeted with praise and astonishment.
Throughout press interviews at the time, Berger coyly teased other coming discoveries. He even went so far to state that the discovery of fire use might be the least astonishing of 3 more discoveries yet to be announced.
From a YouTube interview by History with Kayleigh, Jan. 18,
What It’s Like In The Dinaledi Chamber? Interview Lee Berger
Kayleigh: You have been teasing the people with discoveries, bigger than the discovery of fire used by Homo naledi. Can I ask you to tease the viewers a bit more. Or, should we all wait til you are ready to announce this all yourself?
Berger: So, umm, I’m in London right now. That’s where I’m doing this video from. I’m on my way to Denmark, on Saturday morning. If anyone in this field who does a little Googling can understand what happens in Copenhagen, and why we’re working there.
Berger is almost certainly referring to the discovery of DNA in Homo naledi fossils. The Max Planck Center in Denmark that he is referring too, is affiliated with the Max Planck Center in Leipzig, Germany where Nobel Prize winner Svante Pääbo, discoverer of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA, heads the Genetics Research department.
Berger continuing: So, uh, watch the molecular space. That’s fairly obvious. We’ve been on the hunt for that. Homo naledi is an ideal candidate, but not only that space. Watch other spaces in the hominin record that umm… Obviously, molecular discoveries are going to be a big deal.
Homo naledi brain size is 560cc comparable to a Chimpanzee at 465cc
Such a finding could prove highly controversial. UCLA geneticists Sriram Sankararaman and Arun Durvasula published a paper in January 2020, announcing the finding of up to 19% archaic ghost species DNA in modern Africans. Many have speculated that the ghost is likely Homo naledi or perhaps a sister species such as (African) Homo heidelbergensis or (undefined) Florisbad man.
Kayleigh, April 2022:
The average [Homo naledi] male brain size is 560 cubic centimeters and for the females it was an average of 465 cubic centimeters. This is just slightly larger for instance, than the brain size of Chimpanzees.
So the combination of archaic Australopithecine features and later Homo species features makes Homo naledi truly unique in the human evolutionary timeline… they are an enigma in the evolutionary timeline, their morphology is an absolute mosaic of a puzzle to solve…
Now, Tweet from Berger, January 21:
So, our paper has been submitted and under review in a premier journal. It’s Science Magazine + 6 months. There has been communications saying “it’s the referees.” It’s a major paper holding up dozens of papers. What would you do? I’m tempted to go open. Is it broken?
Note – Berger is saying that the paper has been in their possession for 6 months, idling with no action. This could indicate that it is the long-awaited paper on the discovery of fire. And that the other papers being held up include the paper on DNA findings. Further, “go open” refers to self-publishing.
And a stunning reversal, 24 hours later, Berger Tweeted:
And a miracle has happened in relation to this tweet. We received the reviews today… onwards.