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?
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.