Field of Science

New hominid fossil has 9-year-old discoverer

A boy in South Africa has stumbled upon Australopithecus sediba, a possible Homo erectus ancestor who demonstrated both upright walking traits as well as the ability to swing with apelike arms among trees. In the hunt for transitional forms in human evolution, this is clearly an important touchstone. The report will be published in Science this Friday. The report is already causing a controversy because of its suggestion that A. sediba might be a direct Homo ancestor. Such kind of classification controversy about hominid fossils has long animated anthropology and human evolution.

The 9-year-old boy named Matthew Berger was chasing his dog and accidentally came across the remarkably well preserved fossil, situated close to the site where his father Lee Berger has been excavating for years. The site also contains fossils of carnivores and is at the bottom of a cliff, indicating that both humans and animals might have lost their footing and fallen to their deaths, either when the humans were chasing the animals or vice versa.

Just one question. Since the boy discovered the fossil, shouldn't the paper bear his name as co-author? Or are 9-year-olds safely ignored for authorship on Science papers? Although he is mentioned in the paper as the discoverer, it seems a little unfair, especially for a field like paleontology where the initial discovery is the most important event.

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