John Templeton Foundation
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A paleoanthropologist by training, Berhane Asfaw is the manager of the private Rift Valley Research Service in Addis Ababa and co-director of the Middle Awash Research Project in the desert of Ethiopia’s Afar state, part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley that extends south through Kenya as far as Mozambique. He and his colleagues discovered the world’s oldest human remains—two 160,000-year-old near complete fossilized skulls—that support the long-held view, strengthened in the early 1990s by genetic evidence, that Africa is the cradle of humanity. Although unearthed in 1997, research and verification of the skulls was not completed until 2003 when Dr. Asfaw and his teammates first published their findings in the leading science journal Nature. They theorized that their fossil discoveries bridged the gap between more archaic human forms and fully modern humans. A native of Ethiopia, he had earlier completed extensive survey work in the Awash depression and played a major role in unearthing many fossils thought to be among the earliest hominids, some now dated at more than four million years of age. Dr. Asfaw received his undergraduate degree from Addis Ababa University and, as the recipient of a Leakey Foundation Baldwin Fellowship, went on to study at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a Ph.D. in physical anthropology in 1988. He was then named paleoanthroplogy coordinator of his country’s Center for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage in the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and director of the National Museum of Ethiopia, a post he held until 1992. After serving as a visiting professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, he accepted appointment to his present position in 1997. Dr. Asfaw has lectured widely and is the co-author of some thirty papers published in scientific journals.