An American scientist who discovered 117,000-year-old footprints on a fossilized sandbar in South Africa will receive the first National Geographic Society exploration and research award, the society said Thursday.
Lee R. Berger, 31, a paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, will receive a $100,000 tax-free, no-strings payment, the society said.
The National Geographic Society said Berger’s discovery is being honored because the rock-embedded footprints, the oldest known of an anatomically modern human, represent an important link in the uncovering of the human past.
Berger announced his findings at a National Geographic Society news conference earlier this year.
The National Geographic also announced that three other scientists will share a new $50,000 “Chairman’s Award.”
Ann Marie Cyphers of the National Autonomous University of Mexico for archaeological excavations of ancient Olmec sites at San Lorenzo, Veracruz, Mexico.
Cheryl Knott, a biological anthropologist at Harvard University, who is studying the reproductive ecology of orangutans in the rain forest of Borneo.
Tim Laman, a Harvard biologist, who is researching plants and animals in the Borneo rain forest canopy.