The Skull in the Rock: How a Scientist, a Boy, and Google Earth Opened a New Window on Human Origins

Overview

"A fascinating account of an Indiana Jones–style fossil hunter and how his discoveries have changed the way we see human evolution." —Kirkus Reviews

In 2008, Professor Lee Berger—with the help of his curious 9-year-old son—discovered two remarkably well preserved, two-million-year-old fossils of an adult female and young male, known as Australopithecus sediba; a previously unknown species of ape-like creatures that may have been a direct ancestor of modern humans. This ...

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Overview

"A fascinating account of an Indiana Jones–style fossil hunter and how his discoveries have changed the way we see human evolution." —Kirkus Reviews

In 2008, Professor Lee Berger—with the help of his curious 9-year-old son—discovered two remarkably well preserved, two-million-year-old fossils of an adult female and young male, known as Australopithecus sediba; a previously unknown species of ape-like creatures that may have been a direct ancestor of modern humans. This discovery of has been hailed as one of the most important archaeological discoveries in history. The fossils reveal what may be one of humankind's oldest ancestors.

Berger believes the skeletons they found on the Malapa site in South Africa could be the "Rosetta stone that unlocks our understanding of the genus Homo" and may just redesign the human family tree.

Berger, an Eagle Scout and National Geographic Grantee, is the Reader in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science in the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

The focus of the book will be on the way in which we can apply new thinking to familiar material and come up with a breakthrough. Marc Aronson is particularly interested in framing these issues for young people and has had enormous success with this approach in his previous books: Ain't Nothing But a Man and If Stones Could Speak.

Berger's discovery in one of the most excavated and studied areas on Earth revealed a treasure trove of human fossils—and an entirely new human species—where people thought no more field work might ever be necessary. Technology and revelation combined, plus a good does of luck, to broaden by ten times the number of early human fossils known, rejuvenating this field of study and posing countless more questions to be answered in years and decades to come.

Releases simultaneously in Reinforced Library Binding: 978-1-4263-1053-9 , $27.90/$32.00 Can

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Abby McGanney Nolan
Adding to a heap of impressive recent books about old bones, The Skull in the Rock provides a dual picture of science being practiced in all its current high-tech glory and of life as it was precariously lived by our hominid ancestors about 2 million years ago.
From the Publisher
CCBC's Book of Choice 2013!  

Winner of The American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Excellence in Science Books!

“Adding to a heap of impressive recent books about old bones, The Skull in the Rock provides a dual picture of science being practiced in all its current high-tech glory.”  —The Washington Post

"A fascinating account of an Indiana Jones–style fossil hunter and how his discoveries have changed the way we see human evolution." —Kirkus Reviews

“… a fine pairing of an impassioned personality and scientific achievement.” —School Library Journal

"Slim, enticing and totally accessible, this is a book that will open eyes to the world around us and, perhaps, inspire a whole new generation of “Indies.”" —Bookends, a Booklist Blog

"Readers will be entranced with this story." —Library Media Connection

"The co-authors have given this photo- and imagined paintings-filled volume a fun, hands-on flavor by providing a number of series of captioned photos that demonstrate scientific processes utilized in the searching and evaluating of these new fossils." —A Book and a Hug

"The fossils Berger discovered reveal what may be one of humankind’s oldest ancestors. The find has been hailed as one of the most important archaeological discoveries in history." —Niagara Falls Review

"The focus of the book will be on the way in which we can apply new thinking to familiar material and come up with a breakthrough. Marc Aronson is particularly interested in framing these issues for young people and has had enormous success with this approach in his previous books." GSWNY MLK Troop #30294

Children's Literature - Elisabeth Greenberg
Aronson extols the excitement of scientific work as Matthew Berger, nine years old, discovers a rock with a human fossil while exploring the Cradle of Mankind with his dad. Lee Berger was not just any dad, but a scientist enthralled by the search for man's early ancestors. Lee identified a human clavicle and, with his team, carefully excavated the area to find not one, but two, fossilized skeletons, which turned out to be missing links in the story of human evolution. The discovery is tied to the lessons learned by Matt and Lee in their engagement with science and exploration: notice anomalies and things that are different; observe, notice, and act; develop a passion; realize that every discovery opens new doors to other amazing information/discoveries; try new things. Trying new things led Lee to use Google earth to discover twenty new potential sites for exploration. So Matt ended up in the right place at the right time with the right skills to say, "Look, Dad, I found a fossil." This book artfully interweaves a boy's discovery, his father's observations of nature and fascination with the world from early childhood, and hard science, making the point that new discoveries can still be made...if people can develop fresh ways of seeing. Double-page spreads present mini-lessons about how to find a fossil, the process of getting a fossil to the lab, and using the synchotron to see inside the skull. Aronson clearly explains the latest research in human evolution, ways of dating human fossil finds, the chronology of human archeology, and so much more that students might begin reading the National Geographic for fun. They can also go to the book's website www.scimania.org to investigate many more aspects of the Bergers' discovery: Australopithecus sediba. This is a definite purchase for school and public libraries. Reviewer: Elisabeth Greenberg
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—In this slim, readable volume, Berger and Aronson braid a history of past researches and discoveries into an exposition of the long saga of human evolution. Berger's decision to use Google Earth to search long-explored ground for previously unrecognized fossil sites is a brilliant revelation, as is his use of other cutting-edge methods. Fine color photos record his methods and results, with perhaps the most poignant picture being that of the tiny fossil bones of Australopithecus sediba's hand nestled in the seemingly giant paw of a modern Homo sapiens. This enthusiastic narrative opens with Berger's son Matthew's now-famous words, "Dad, I've found a fossil," spoken when he was nine years old. It ends with assurances that readers will be able to follow further field discoveries and lab research by logging on to a special website to participate in forensic anthropology in real time. For earnest fans, some stellar books will reinforce their interest. For some, Catherine Thimmesh's Lucy Long Ago: Uncovering the Mystery of Where We Come From (Houghton, 2009) and/or Katherine Kirkpatrick's Mysterious Bones: The Story of Kennewick Man (Holiday House, 2011) will fill the bill. Older readers wanting a deeper look into the evolution of research should consult Sally M. Walker's Their Skeletons Speak (Carolrhoda, 2012) or Jill Rubacalba's Every Bone Tells a Story (Charlesbridge, 2010). All in all, this slender work, with the gold-toned skull of Australopithecus sediba staring blindly out of the gray rock matrix, is a fine pairing of an impassioned personality and scientific achievement.Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426310102
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society
  • Publication date: 10/23/2012
  • Pages: 64
  • Sales rank: 514,739
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

LEE BERGER is the Reader in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science at the Institute for Human Evolution, School of GeoSciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg South Africa. He won the National Geographic Society's first Research and Exploration Prize in 1997, has conducted numerous subsequent expeditions, and is best known for his discovery of Australopithecus sediba.

MARC ARONSON is an award-winning author and editor who earned his doctorate in American History at NYU, he is co-author of The World Made New for National Geographic, a new biography of Robert Kennedy, and Race: A History Beyond Black and White.

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Read an Excerpt

“Dad, I’ve found a fossil.”
 
Nine-year-old Matthew Berger was fossil hunting with his dad when he stumbled and spied a brown rock with a thin yellow bone stuck in it. Matthew was lucky: His father is Professor Lee Berger, a scientist who has devoted his life to finding the remains of our ancient ancestors. They had often gone exploring together in the brown limestone hills and scraggly trees just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. So many important fossils have been found in this area that it is called the Cradle of Humankind and is protected by the government and listed as a World Heritage Site.
 
Though only half an hour from one of the largest cities in Africa, the Cradle belongs to animals—visitors are watched by troops of baboons, dodged by scampering warthogs, measured by soaring eagles. The Bergers always bring their Rhodesian ridgebacks with them in their customized Jeep—since leopards and other predators prowl nearby, and the dogs smell and sense them in time to give warning. On this pleasant August morning in 2008, Matthew called out to his dad—and opened a door two million years back in time.
 
Some day, Matthew’s words may be famous, the way we honor “What hath God wrought?” the first telegraph message sent in 1844, or “Mr. Watson, come here” the first telephone call 32 years later. What he found was that important. But that is not what his dad first thought. Every other time they had gone out together, Matthew found the remains of ancient antelopes—fossils that are quite common in the area. As Dr. Berger came closer, Matthew could tell that his dad assumed it was just another old antelope and was trying to be nice by pretending to be interested. That is exactly what Dr. Berger was thinking until he was about fifteen feet (4.6 m) from his son, and could focus.
 
Right then, just at that precise moment, he froze. His world went black and white. Time stopped. Matthew was holding a gift from the past so precious almost nothing like it had ever been found. And the one person in the world who knew that for sure was Dr. Lee Berger. For the fossil was a clavicle, the thin connecting bone across the shoulder that humans and our ancestors share—and that athletes in contact sports sometimes break. The bone is so fragile, not one of the famous skeletons of prehumans still has a complete one. Yet when he was a graduate student, Dr. Berger had written his Ph.D. thesis on just that bone and three others that would become important in this story, the bones that make up the upper arm.
 
Because Matthew had trained his eyes, he recognized a fossil. Because his father had studied that part of the body, he realized the treasure in his son’s hands. For Dr. Berger, it would have been enough to find that one special bone. But the clavicle was just the beginning. It was the rabbit hole beckoning Alice, the wardrobe flung open to Narnia, the first clue to what is becoming an entirely new way of understanding human evolution.

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