I’ve often spoken here and elsewhere about the idea that a NF book is not just an illustrated text about a person or subject, it is also the result of a research and writing journey that can be a model for young people. Well this weekend my 11 year old son and I board a plane and 15 hours later we will land in South Africa to meet Dr. Lee Berger. In 2008 Dr. Berger and his son discovered the remains of an entirely unknown branch of hominids — which would be exciting enough, but the remains — which are still being found, and are only in the initial stages of being studied — are vastly more complete than anything we had before from this key phase in human evolution (2 million years ago).
We are going to visit the site, see the bones, see the lab where they are being studied, and then I’ll write a book with Dr. Berger. But from the start, my son and I will be Skyping to some schools, including his, from the lab, to let other students in on the excitement of being there, on the ground, with the scientists. We may be there as a key new insight comes either from the ground or from new tests. Just this Tuesday when I first met Dr. Berger in Washington, he got news that tests on teeth showed that the diet of these beings was not at all what we would have expected.
The heart of this book is that the past is opening up, is there to be found. Dr. Berger is certain there is much more not only in this one site, but throughout Africa and perhaps the world. We are in the Age of Discovery — Right Now — the mix of what new technologies allow, and what new thinking permits us to see, to imagine, and thus to find — means the adventure is just beginning. And that is the excitement we have to bring young people. We don’t have to turn to fantasy to find the fantastic — it is there in the relics of our remote ancestors, waiting to be found. Dr. Berger showed me the face of the 2 million year old boy — not a guess, not a hypothetical model based on assumptions — but a reconstruction that is as accurate as you looking in the mirror (with the exception of a bit of guess work on one nostril). Of course we’ll share that with all of you as soon as we can.