From the fossil hunter who discovered the Homo naledi fossils in September 2015, this book is an amazing account of Lee Berger’s 2008 hunt with the help of his curious 9-year-old son for a previously unknown species of ape-like creatures that may have been direct ancestors of modern humans. The discovery of two remarkably well preserved, two-million-year-old fossils of an adult female and young male, known as Australopiitecus sediba, 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 fossilsand an entirely new human specieswhere 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
About 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.
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.
What People are Saying About This
“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
"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