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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Sasha’s Interview with Matthew Berger

If you have followed the story of Sediba, the 1.97 million year old hominid skeletons that were recently found in South Africa, you know that Matthew Berger, then 9, made the initial and crucial discovery. Two days ago when we visited the Bergers (is it two days, time blurs after a 16 hour flight) Sasha interviewed Matthew, after spending the day with him and his very Hogwarts, English-prep-school, school. Here, is that Q and A:
As background, Matthew found a rock and noticed something unusual in it. “Dad,” he called out, “I’ve found a fossil.”

Q: How did you know it was a fossil?
A: From a young age my dad taught me what they looked like and their color. It was a yellow-white color in the rock, and then I knew it was a fossil, or limestone.

(The bone in the rock was a clavicle — a bone which is so thin and fragile it had never been recovered from an ancient skeleton, but which Dr. Berger happened to have written his doctoral dissertation about)

Q: Did you know it was a clavicle at first?
A: No, because you normally get antelope fossils, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

Q Was this your first fossil find?
A: No.

Q: Was it an advantage for you that your dad studies these things?
A: Definately, because I wouldn’t have known what a fossil looked like otherwise.

Q Were you with anyone or anything when you found it?
A: I was with a guardian dog, Tau.

Q: Did you think/know if your dad would believe it was something important?
A: I inferred from his expression, “Oh, this is just another antelope fossil, I’ll just please my son anyway.”

Q: Were you surprised that you found something so major?
A: Yes, I was surprised.

Q: Were there reports and headlines for you?
A: Yes, lots of reporters and I also got my name and picture on the front page of the New York Times, I was on TV, radio, and magazines.

Q: Did you feel overwhelmed by the media?
A: When they announced the discovery, I got very nervous.

Neither the questions nor the answers are earth shaking — though Dr. Berger has confirmed that he assumed it would be another antelope fossil, so Mathew read his father all too well. But there some cool points here: Matthew could help because his father had trained him. The more young people we train to recognize anything — but fossils in particular — the more knowledge we will all gain. And in a sense Sasha could interview Matthew because I brought him. The more young people we train to be curious, to ask questions, and to report back to their peers, the world young people can get out of their local bubbles and learn about the world.


  1. Shirley Budhos says:

    Well done, Sasha,


  2. Myra Zarnowski says:

    Bravo, Sasha! Great interview.

  3. Hi Sasha,

    You asked great questions. I particularly liked how you used the word “clavicle,” which is the proper scientific description of that specific bone. Shows that you did your “homework” prior to the interview.

    I was surprised that a guardian dog was along with Mr. Berger when he made the discovery (and that the dog’s name was included). Nice detail. And I found myself wondering, why do paleontologists need guardian dogs? Hmmm….perhaps a bit of follow-up research?

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Marc Aronson says:

    Sasha’s response: Scientists need guardian dogs because when they work in the open fields there could be predators such as leopards in the area and the dogs become very alert when they sense one, so the human has more time to react. Dr. Berger told us that you can tell when the dogs know something is coming. When I was with them they seemed like house dogs, but if there was danger they would change.

  5. Bravo, Sasha! Sasha and Matthew reveal so much about what teachers can do to harness the home literacies and knowledge sources children’s families provide. What are moms and dads teaching their sons and daughters about the world around them? How are they showing them different perspectives on the everyday? How do we harness family skills and knowledge and mirror those ways of knowing and the apprentice-style of teaching and learning to make it take root and school for all of the ways in which we want young people to conduct research and learn about the world around them? Thanks for taking us along for the trip.

  6. Lenore Look says:

    Wow. Great job, Sasha! Asking good questions is more important than having the answers, and you certainly can ask ’em! I especially liked your last question, “did you feel overwhelmed . . . ” — it shows that you wanted to understand more than the event — you wanted to know how the event changed him. Bravo!