Ian Tattersall has always been one of my "go-to" authors for the latest and greatest information in paleoanthropology, and this new volume is terrificIan Tattersall has always been one of my "go-to" authors for the latest and greatest information in paleoanthropology, and this new volume is terrific. This is really more of a historical survey of scientific and philosophical thought associated with human origins over the past century or so, and it is quite fascinating. Dr. Tattersall uses the fossils to tell a compelling story about how we humans have viewed our ancestors, our own origins, and where we may be going as a species. It simply amazes me how current scientific advances are leading to a more complete understanding and reevaluation of the roles that climate change, geology, genetics, and ecology have had on the biological and evolutionary processes that has resulted in Homo sapiens being the only hominid species left on the planet. This book will appeal to all who are looking to better understand what it is that makes us human and how we got where we are today.
This is an excellent and up-to-date look at human origins through the lens of ecological and environmental science. Finlayson makes a compelling caseThis is an excellent and up-to-date look at human origins through the lens of ecological and environmental science. Finlayson makes a compelling case for the evolution and adaptation of human species being driven by changes in habitat and environmental conditions in Africa and, like most species, our strong dependence on reliable water supplies. This short book is a quick read, but quite thought-provoking. Good bibliography with references to several very new paleo-anthropological journal articles that I also sought out and read....more
An incredibly fascinating look at the role that genetics is now playing is sorting out our human origins. While this particular book is not all that wAn incredibly fascinating look at the role that genetics is now playing is sorting out our human origins. While this particular book is not all that well written, I have to acknowledge that Svante Paabo is clearly at the cutting edge of the science in better understanding the evolution and relationships between Homo sapiens, Homo neanderthalensis, and other potential hominin species that have occupied the Earth. With Paabo, and other geneticists like him, I think we will be learning more and more with each passing year. These are incredibly exciting times to be following paleoanthropology. No longer is paleoanthropology simply the story of what can be gleaned from "stones and bones", but now is really, first-and-foremost, what the genes tell us and supported by the archaeological evidence....more
This was an excellent read! Dr. Papagianni has synthesized the latest and greatest archaeological and genetics data and information about our closestThis was an excellent read! Dr. Papagianni has synthesized the latest and greatest archaeological and genetics data and information about our closest human cousins, the Neanderthals. While this book will clearly appeal to the lay-reader, I found it to be a very accurate representation of the latest theories and hypotheses associated with better understanding the long history of the Neanderthals and their place in Human family tree. Dr. Papagianni has also included a relatively comprehensive bibliography that references general publications, specialized and technical books, and an excellent listing of important journal articles addressing significant issues and findings in human evolution....more
Virginia Morell's biography of the Leakey family is superb! Much of what we have learned about our own human origins is due to the life-long dedicatioVirginia Morell's biography of the Leakey family is superb! Much of what we have learned about our own human origins is due to the life-long dedication of several generations of Leakeys working in Africa and the countless graduate students that they have mentored. It was fascinating to learn ever so much more about Louis, his long-suffering and curmudgeonly wife, Mary, and one of their sons, Richard, and his wife Meave. And even now Richard and Meave's daughter, Louise, is continuing the tradition and is conducting paleontological/anthropological expeditions of her own in Africa. What an interesting family! This was a great read....more
While the subject matter of this book will surely not appeal to most people, I found it to be a fascinating and incredibly informative book to read. RWhile the subject matter of this book will surely not appeal to most people, I found it to be a fascinating and incredibly informative book to read. Robin Dennell is well known in paleoanthropological circles as one of the preeminent experts on Asian archeology and paleoanthropology, and I suppose that The Palaeolithic Settlement of Asia (2009) could be viewed as a grand synthesis of what he has learned and the ideas he has developed over his professional career.
Generally, this book covers the dispersal of hominins across much of Asia starting about 2.0 million years ago. The book provides extensive coverage of the paleoclimatic conditions (all carefully tied to Marine Isotope Stages) across Eurasia in the same time-frame and the associated ecological conditions. It was these highly diverse climatic conditions, according to Dr. Dennell, that absolutely influenced the dispersal of hominins and faunal assemblages across regions of southwest Asia (i.e., the Levant), south Asia (i.e., Indian subcontinent), southeast Asia (i.e., Indonesia, Java, etc.), and northern and southern China. The full extent of the time-frame covered by the book is, as indicated above, from around 2.0 million years ago to about the period of time when anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) dispersed from Africa and rapidly colonized much of Europe and Asia (i.e., between about 100,000 and 80,000 years ago).
In the book, Dennell, temporally moves through the climatological and archaeological record in Asia region-by-region, describing the important hominin fossils, archaeological sites, and floral and faunal assemblages. At the end of each chapter there is an excellent section that summarizes the important points and identifies issues that require additional research and analysis.
Much of the paleoanthropological data and information that has been historically written about, and indeed even to the present time, is generally presented from the perspective of a Euro- or Afro-centric basis. While there is certainly a large amount of very significant information coming from these regions, it does tend to ignore or minimize the huge Asian landmass. Dennell's book is a giant step at begining to fill the void and better understand human orgins and hominin evolution in the context of the Asian record.
As I mentioned above, this book synthesizes much of the data and important concepts that Dr. Dennell has worked on over much of his career. For example, this book goes into great detail about Dennell's hypothesis that because of favorable climatic conditions in the late-Pliocene and early-Pleistocene a great swath of savannah habitat stretched from northeastern Africa all the way across much of Asia. This "Savannahstan" could have greatly facilitated the dispersal of early hominin species, possibly including even australopithicines, into southwest Asia and potentially even further. Conversely, during a cold (glacial) period this same region could just as easily be called "Aridistan" and would have significantly inhibited hominin dispersal into and colonization of Asian regions.
Another intriguing concept presented in the book is associated with the origin of Homo erectus, and was previously described in a seminal paper by Dennell and Roebroeks entitled, An Asian Perspective on Early Human Dispersal from Africa (Nature 438: 1099-1104, 2005). Most paleoanthropologists believe that Homo erectus has an African origin (i.e., a speciation event from H. habilis giving rise to the African "erectus" H. ergaster) and then broadly dispersing between about 2.0 and 1.8 million years ago. Dennell wonders if perhaps it might not have been the other way around, i.e., that Homo erectus actually dispersed into Africa after its speciation in Asia. In support of his hypothesis, Dr. Dennell wonders if the contemporaneity of H. habilis and H. ergaster is problematic; and why are the Dmanisi hominins (ca 1.8 Mya) so much more primitive even than H. ergaster. This is seriously thought-provoking stuff, and brings one back to "Savannahstan" and the possibility that an australopith like A. garhi or A. bahrelghazali could be the ancestor of H. erectus. More research (and fossils!) is clearly needed, but I think there are exciting times to come.
In conclusion, if you've a decent background in paleoanthropology and are looking to expand your knowledge about hominin origins and the Asian archaeological record, Dr. Dennell's book will be very well received. And as a bonus, this book is also an incredibly comprehensive survey of paleoclimatology, and may be the first time that I actually fully understand the mechanisms associated with the Indian monsoonal system and its impact on hominin dispersals. Anyway, this is a terrific book that is well worth reading and a great reference to go back to as needed....more
Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer's The Real Eve: Modern Man's Journey Out of Africa (2003) is absolutely one of the very best non-fiction books I've read in aDr. Stephen Oppenheimer's The Real Eve: Modern Man's Journey Out of Africa (2003) is absolutely one of the very best non-fiction books I've read in a few years! And I say this on several levels too. First, if you are at all interested in your own human origins, and what makes us human, you'll love this book. Second, if you're interested in paleoanthropology, and are interested in what happened after anatomically modern humans (i.e., Homo sapiens) appeared in Africa somewhere around 200,000 years ago and when did we actually become 'behaviorally modern' too, you'll love this book. Finally, if you're at all interested in how anatomically and behaviorally modern humans then spread out in the great diaspora about 80,000 years ago known as the "Out-of-Africa" dispersal, you'll love this book.
Much of this book is an incredibly compelling melding of the existing paleoanthropological, archaeological, and genetic evidence that, when combined with known ecological and climatological data, tells the story of these robust early modern humans that undertook this grand journey that completely changed the world we live in. Oppenheimer carefully presents and considers all of the available archaeological evidence and the conclusions drawn from it, and then compares it with the results of the now extensive amount of genetic research associated with maternal mitochondrial-DNA and male Y-chromosome analyses. Oppenheimer believes that we now have answers or, at a minimum, at least some pretty compelling hypotheses that go far in addressing questions about who these peoples were that trekked along the coasts colonizing the Near East, eastern and western Europe, India, southeast Asia and eventually even New Guinea, and Australia; while others continued 'coasting' up along the Asian-Pacific coast before turning inland and settling the hinterlands of the ice-age steppe tundra of Siberia and Mongolia. Finally, Oppenheimer addresses one of the most contentious issues in modern archaeology--that of the settling of the Americas. When did modern humans reach the Americas? Who were these early colonizers? Where did they come from? Did they come in a single wave following the end of the last ice-age, or were there multiple entries? And were the Clovis peoples really the first to arrive about 12,000 years ago?
The organization of this book in its seven chapters is simply superb too, in my opinion. Dr. Oppenheimer starts off with the fascinating discussion of our early modern human ancestors in Africa, and what it was that might have compelled them to leave Africa between 80,000 and 90,000 years ago. He then spends time describing the archaeological evidence associated with the potential routes of initial dispersal from Africa (i.e., a northern route through the Levant, or the southern route--the preferred alternative--via the Bab al Mandab at the bottom of the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa).
The second chapter is equally fascinating, and addresses the all-important question of when did anatomically modern humans become 'behaviorally modern'. This has been a vexing question to paleoanthropologists and archaeologists for some time now, and there is a considerable body of evidence out there that can be interpreted quite differently. Frankly though, I'm leaning toward agreement with Dr. Oppenheimer that the appearance of anatomically modern humans between 200,000 years and 170,000 years ago was largely concurrent with the appearance of our behavioral modernity as well. In contrast, there are many well-respected anthropologists, e.g., Richard G. Klein of Stanford University, who believe that Homo sapiens became behaviorally modern sometime around 50,000 years ago, the result of additional adaptations within the human brain. Oppenheimer and other geneticists have not yet ferreted out what this change might have been, nor does he believe that the archaeological evidence supports this theory. All in all, I found this a very thought-provoking chapter.
The remainder of the book's chapters (i.e., 3-7) focus on detailed archaeological and genetic discussions of the timing of the entries into the various regions of the world colonized by the mitochondrial 'Out-of-Africa Eve' and Y-chromosomal 'Out-of-Africa Adam' and their genetic descendants. Chapter Three describes the types of people and timing of the colonizing of eastern and western Europe. Chapter Four focuses on the colonization of India, southeast Asia and leading to humans reaching New Guinea and Australia by about 60,000 years ago (implication being you'd certainly have to have been 'behaviorally modern' to fabricate a craft that was capable of 'island-hopping' and crossing many tens of kilometers of open ocean to reach Australia!). Chapter Five looks at the types of peoples and the timing of the settling of the great interior regions of ice-age Asia and eastern Russia. Chapter Six tells the story of the impact of the last ice-age in the late-Pleistocene (i.e., the Last Glacial Maximum), that wreaked havoc on the small populations of humans scattered throughout Europe and Asia. The last chapter of the book is Oppenheimer's take on the peopling of the Americas. He's of the opinion--based upon archaeology and genetics--that the first 'Americans' arrived between 25,000 years and 22,000 years ago, and that this was followed by a re-expansion of peoples that had occupied Beringia (the huge continent that existed between 25,000-11,000 years ago and linked Asian Siberia with North American Alaska during the run up and through the Last Glacial Maximum).
'So,' you ask, 'having read this fascinating book, what's the upshot?' Well, first, I can categorically answer that we are all African! Second, I think the genetic evidence and its most parsimonious interpretations tend to validate and enhance the current "Out-of-Africa" hypothesis for the dispersal of Homo sapiens from eastern Africa around 80,000 years ago. Third, after reading this book you'll never look at another human being quite the same. You'll always be thinking about our remarkable kinship, yet more fully understanding the meaning of the differences that exist among the peoples of our world today. I think it is also important to point out that Dr. Oppenheimer has also very carefully sourced and documented the material he presents in the book with over 50 pages of end-notes. I strongly recommend reading each of the end-notes too, it made for an even more complete reading experience for me.
Dr. Oppenheimer's The Real Eve: Modern Man's Journey Out of Africa is a grand synthesis of a grand story--our own human origins and subsequent dispersal around the globe. This book is really the incredible story of how a very small group (1,000-2,000 individuals) from a total population of the approximately 20,000 Homo sapiens that occupied Africa about 80,000 years ago actually got up the gumption to strike out and explore and colonize the rest of the world over the next 40,000 years or so. Finally, don't be intimidated by the subject matter, Dr. Oppenheimer is an engaging writer and spends the time and effort to present the material in such a fashion as to be understandable by any reader. It includes loads of terrific maps and detailed charts illustrating and supporting the genetic evidence and conclusions presented in the book.
In closing, I do want to say that I consider myself more than just a casual student of topics in paleoanthropology and human origins and evolution. Over my entire adult life I have made a point of staying current with the latest information, via books and technical journal articles, on this intellectually challenging subject, and I can unhesitatingly say that I believe that this is one of the most important books that I've read associated with modern human origins. This was such a good book that I've gone ahead and found a hardcover edition for my paleoanthropology book collection, as I know that I will be diving into this book time and again in the future. I highly recommend this book, and feel entirely justified in giving this 'five stars'....more
Ann Gibbons has written a very solid and fascinating account of the relative recent discoveries of several of our earliest human ancestors. Gibbons isAnn Gibbons has written a very solid and fascinating account of the relative recent discoveries of several of our earliest human ancestors. Gibbons is a well known science writer and brings significant journalistic integrity to her story-telling, as well as significant knowledge of her subject matter. The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors (2006) is the story of the paleoanthropologists behind the incredibly important discoveries of hominin species that are currently some of the oldest yet found, and span a range of ages from 5.0 million years old to perhaps as much as 7.0 million years old.
Gibbons, in telling the story of these discoveries, necessarily focuses much of the book on the out-sized personalities (and, dare I say, egos) of the anthropologists leading the teams exploring various important fossil regions in Africa. The teams she primarily focuses on in the book include Tim White and his work in the Afar Depression of Ethiopia; Richard and Meave Leakey in the Lake Turkana region of Kenya; Martin Pickford and Brigitte Senut in the Tugen Hills of Kenya; and Michel Brunet and his team in the Djureb Desert of Chad. Each of these teams of highly professional specialists in their respective fields have significantly added to our general understanding and knowledge base associated with the very earliest hominin species found to date, including Australopithecus, Ardipithecus, and two newly identified species, Orrorin tugenensis and Sahelanthropus tchadensis.
Gibbons is quite even-handed in describing the tension and academic conflict that has arisen among some of these researchers associated with the interpretation and meaning of these important fossil discoveries and their role in understanding and explaining human evolution. Gibbons does a great job of not editorializing or letting her own emotions color the scenes she writes about, and simply factually recounts the stories of the fossil discoveries, the research science that followed, and the resultant back-and-forth academic squabbles that erupted as articles were published and discussed in various academic journals. As a serious amateur student of paleoanthropology and human evolution, I know that this is pretty much de rigueur, not only in anthropological circles, but among the scientific community as a whole. All in all, I think that a rigorous and scholarly debate is incredibly healthy and typically results in the advancement of scientific knowledge. Having said that though, and based upon my interpretation of what Gibbons presents in this book, it is my personal opinion that Martin Pickford--one of the co-discoverers of O. tugenensis--behaved simply deplorably in his much of his dealings with his peers in the academic community over many, many years.
If you're interested in reading about how scientists gear up and conduct scientific expeditions in some very inhospitable portions of the world in their on-going search for the proverbial "needle in the haystack", then I think you'll very much enjoy Ms. Gibbons, The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors. Additionally, if you're specifically interested in learning more about these new, and incredibly ancient, species that have been discovered (i.e., O. tugenensis and S. tchadensis you'll very much appreciate the detail and solid science that Ms. Gibbons provides in telling this fascinating story....more
This book is largely a complete rewrite of a similarly titled book that Reader first published in 1981. This lavishly illustrated book is an excellentThis book is largely a complete rewrite of a similarly titled book that Reader first published in 1981. This lavishly illustrated book is an excellent and comprehensive survey of the history behind the search for our human origins. Mr. Reader guides the reader through the first early discoveries and interpretations of the fossils and artifacts that led the great thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries to begin pondering our origins. From the mid-19th century on, as many of you are aware, things really take off, and significant fossil hominin discoveries are made in Europe, Asia, and then in Africa. And as we know now, it is in Africa where the cradle of humanity and all of its closest relatives are to be found.
What Mr. Reader has created in Missing Links: In Search of Human Origins is a profoundly interesting story. First, for its detailed description of the expeditions and the 'thrill of the hunt' associated with all of the fascinating fossil discoveries and interpretations of the biological evidence. Second, Reader uses the book to tell the story of the fascinating personalities (and, in some cases, huge egos) of all of the men and women involved in these searches for hominin fossils and their role in better understanding our own biological history. This is as much a story of Charles Darwin, Arthur Keith, Eugene Dubois, Raymond Dart, Robert Bloom, the Leakey family, Phillip Tobias, Don Johanson, Tim White, and Michel Brunet, and a host of others, as it is about the fossils themselves. Another important element that Reader brings to the story is the importance of the integration of many different scientific disciplines when investigating and endeavoring to piece together and tell the complicated story and timeline of our human existence over the past six to seven million years.
In some respects, this book reminded me of the second edition of Ian Tattersall's brilliant book, The Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know about Human Evolution (2008). While Tattersall's book is perhaps more technically oriented to the actual fossil evidence and biological data, Mr. Reader's is more focused on the historical elements associated with the finds and the anthropologists and anatomists doing the work. All in all, they are actually quite complementary works, and well worth having in your collection. So, whether you're a professional anthropologist or you are simply interested in better understanding your own biological and evolutionary history and origins, I highly recommend John Reader's Missing Links: In Search of Human Origins....more
This was a fascinating account of the discovery of the Homo ergaster (likely the direct African ancestor of Homo erectus) skeleton of a juvenile maleThis was a fascinating account of the discovery of the Homo ergaster (likely the direct African ancestor of Homo erectus) skeleton of a juvenile male (thought to be 8-11 years old at the time of his death) along the shoreline of Lake Turkana in Kenya. This important fossil, some 1.6 million years old, is affectionately known as "Turkana Boy" or the "Nariokotome Boy". This nearly-complete skeleton was found in 1984 by Richard Leakey's team, including Alan Walker, and is formally known as KNM-WT 15000 (i.e., KNM-WT=Kenya National Museum--West Turkana).
Alan Walker's book, The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins is the story of the discovery of the Nariokotome Boy and the interpretation and meaning of his skeleton and place within the ongoing story of human evolution. This hominin species (i.e., H. ergaster) is thought by most anthropologists to be the first to leave Africa and disperse rather broadly across much of Eurasia, with important representative fossils of similar age (or, perhaps slightly younger) being discovered in Dmanisi, Georgia, and then at various locations in Java, Indonesia, and in China.
Overall, this is a wonderful story of a tremendously important scientific discovery and the years of related detective work anthropologists have put in trying to learn as much as they can from the fossil of the Turkana Boy. Walker's story, recounted in this book, is what I always envisioned hominin fossil-hunting in eastern Africa to be all about, and is something that continues to fascinate me to this day. After reading this book I have decided that I'd like to track down a good biography of the Leakey family and learn more about the "Golden Age" of hominin fossil hunting in East Africa....more
It took me a couple of weeks, but I slowly made my way through this textbook. All in all, this was a well written, organized and detailed overview ofIt took me a couple of weeks, but I slowly made my way through this textbook. All in all, this was a well written, organized and detailed overview of the current state of knowledge (as of 2009) associated with paleoanthropology and understanding our human origins. The authors take a cladistic approach to interpreting and describing hominin taxonomy, and most of their conclusions I completely agree with. The authors also rely upon the latest genetic evidence in discussing and analyzing issues associated with comparing the 'Out-of-Africa' model with 'Multiregionalism', or potential interbreeding between Neandertals and anatomically modern humans (AMH), or the rates of dispersal of AMHs around the world.
In conclusion, this is a pretty good textbook that should be a valuable resource and learning tool for students as well as those looking to become more familiar with current knowledge and paleoanthropological principles. My one and only gripe with this book is that it needed a careful 'spell-check'. There were significant spelling errors scattered throughout, and some of them nearly unconscionable, e.g., rhodesiensis was spelled, time and time again, rodhesiensis, etc. Oxford University Press at that too. Oh well, I am hopeful that it'll get a good 'scrub' when the next edition is prepared. Solid four out of five stars for me. ...more
This book is a very quick read at just a couple of hundred pages, and while this was an interesting account of the discovery of the small diminutive fThis book is a very quick read at just a couple of hundred pages, and while this was an interesting account of the discovery of the small diminutive fossil Homo floresiensis in the Liang Bua limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Flores, the book is largely a description of the controversy that erupted among members of the academic community regarding the interpretation and role of the floresiensis fossils in better understanding hominin evolution. In fact, upon finishing the book, I still really didn't have a better understanding of exactly what these fossils mean and where the research with respect to the direction that southeastern Asian paleontology/anthropology is headed. Clearly, the discoverers of Homo floresiensis, Mike Morwood and his team, feel like they were badly used by many in academia, and that's too bad.
I guess I would have liked a bit more of scientifically rigorous presentation and discussion of the data and evidence that led Morwood and others to believe that floresiensis is a hominin deserving of species status; and what the implication of these fossils is upon the Out-of-Africa or Multiregional theories of hominin dispersal and evolution. According to other scientific journal articles, and references in other books, it seems that these fossils are likely quite important to more fully understanding our human origins; and this book, unfortunately, just didn't really do all that much toward clarifying things. Hopefully there will be more to come on this fascinating topic in the near future. Despite all of the academic bickering and turf war aspects of this discovery, I have to say that it was really interesting to read about how much work is associated with not only finding fossils like these, but then moving through the academic and professional peer-review processes related to description, classification and interpretation. Unfortunately, it isn't all just science; there's a lot of politics involved too....more
This is a superb reference book to have on the shelf if you're at all interested in human origins and evolution. This book is principally an illustratThis is a superb reference book to have on the shelf if you're at all interested in human origins and evolution. This book is principally an illustrated catalog of all of the major hominin fossils that have been discovered over the past century and a half. The line drawings are incredibly detailed and accurate, and short of studying the actual fossil itself, these drawings go far in providing illustrative examples of skeletal morphology and anatomy and the rationale for the current taxonomic interpretation of many of the fossils. I have found that this book is really useful to have on hand as one reads technical journal articles or books that may not be as well illustrated as one wants. The book was originally done in the mid-1980s, with updates throughout the 90s, so it does include most, if not all, of the relevant fossils important to human origins.
Frankly, my only quibble with the book is that the authors appear to be 'lumpers' and would seem to be adherents of the Multiregional theory of evolution (i.e., after Wolpoff, Thorne, et al.). They pretty much have lumped all hominin fossils after Homo erectus in the Homo sapiens species bucket. Myself, I am a firm believer in the Out-of-Africa 1 and 2 theory of human origins, evolution and dispersal; so I did go through and 'correct' (to my satisfaction) the taxonomic classification, and updated many of the age dates for the fossils based upon new literature and research data. Be that as it may, this is an incredibly valuable resource to anyone studying or interested in human origins, evolution, and especially skeletal morphology and taxonomy....more
This is a superb history of the discovery and taxonomic discussion of most of the important hominin fossils and the interpretation and integration ofThis is a superb history of the discovery and taxonomic discussion of most of the important hominin fossils and the interpretation and integration of these fossils into the overarching narrative of human origins. Ian Tattersall has spent most, if not all, of his illustrious career carefully exploring and considering the fossil evidence and developing a logical hypothesis for the evolution of human species, which he has thoughtfully laid out in the second edition of this important book. In this book, Tattersall has also done a sterling job of incorporating and explaining the latest scientific data and information related to genetics, geochronology, paleoclimatology and paleoecology that tend to bolster his thesis and specific interpretations.
While much of this material was covered in Richard Klein's huge third edition of his The Human Career: Human Biological and Cultural Origins (2009) which I just finished reading recently, I have to say that I very much enjoyed the approach taken by Tattersall--ever the anatomist and taxonomist--in presenting and discussing the fossils in the order that they were discovered, and how they have been viewed and interpreted over time. As the book moves along, Tattersall comes back and revisits certain fossils and presents the new way of interpreting it and its proper placement in the dynamic re-telling of the story of our human origins.
Interestingly, I am actually beginning to recognize and remember many of these fossils by the catalog and/or 'nicknames' that have been given to each of them (e.g., KNM-WT 15000, also known as "Turkana Boy" a very nearly complete skeleton of a young Homo ergaster boy), and this makes reading this book, as well as other technical journal articles and books even more meaningful to me now. Additionally, this book is liberally illustrated, with superbly detailed line drawings of just about each of the fossils that are described in the book. In conclusion, this book is well worth the read, especially if you're at all interested in the history of these amazing fossil discoveries and the evolution, over time, of the interpretation of the of these extinct species and their ultimate role in the origin of anatomically modern humans--Homo sapiens....more
Juan Luis Arsuaga's The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers (2002) is an excellent and compelling addition to my collection of palJuan Luis Arsuaga's The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers (2002) is an excellent and compelling addition to my collection of paleoanthropological books. Dr. Arsuaga is a Spanish anthropologist and has spent much of his career at the famous archaeological sites at the Sierra de Atapuerca. He and his team are known for discovering the largest collection of pre-Neandertal hominins--some 2,000 human fossils, comprising maybe as many as thirty-two individuals. According to Professor Arsuaga, all of these fossils are likely an ancestral species to both the Neandertals (Homo neandertalensis) and anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens), and are classified as either Homo heidelbergensis or Homo antecessor. This human species occupied the Iberian peninsula and other portions of western Europe for a very long period of time, from approximately 780,000 years before present to perhaps 130,000 years before present.
What Professor Arsuaga accomplishes in this book is to eloquently tell the history of the early human species that occupied western Europe, especially the Iberian peninsula from the Middle Paleolithic through the early Upper Paleolithic and the extinction of the Neandertals. What I particularly appreciated was Dr. Arsuaga's melding of the data associated with regional climatic and ecological conditions in telling the story of these early hominin species who occupied these habitats so many millenia in our past in Spain during those fluctuating periods of extreme world-wide glaciation and interglacials. Over the years that I have been reading books and technical papers about human origins, I have come to better understand and appreciate that data and information associated with the effects of global and regional climate change and regional ecological conditions are every bit as important as the fossil and genetic evidence.
Personally, I think Professor Arsuaga's book, The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers, is an important book and goes far in helping fill in the details about our human origins between what we currently know about the dispersal of Homo erectus from Africa between approximately 1.5-1.2 million years ago, and the arrival of fully-functioning anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) in western Europe about 45,000 years ago. I also strongly suggest that Professor Arsuaga's book makes an excellent companion to Clive Finlayson's relatively recent (2010) book entitled, The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived. In reading both of these books, the reader will come away with a clear understanding of the role of the early hominin species in western Europe and the role that climate change and ecological conditions played in ultimately reaching the point that only one human species--Homo sapiens--remained on the planet....more
I think that Christopher Stringer, along with Ian Tattersall, are my two favorite writers when it comes to reading books about paleoanthropology and oI think that Christopher Stringer, along with Ian Tattersall, are my two favorite writers when it comes to reading books about paleoanthropology and our human origins. Dr. Stringer's In Search of the Neanderthals: Solving the Puzzle of Human Origins, while somewhat dated (1993), is a fascinating account of the fossil, genetic, ecological, and archaeological data associated with the Neandertals (Homo neandertalensis) and anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens). For many years, almost since the first Neandertal fossil was found in the mid-19th century, it has been thought that modern humans (H. sapiens) were descendants of this earlier hominin species. We now know that this is not the case. In fact, it is now clear that at one point in time--about 45,000 years ago--there may have been as many as four different and distinct human species living on Earth at the same time, including the Neandertals, modern humans, and then the very ancient Homo erectus in southeast Asia, and perhaps the diminutive hominin on the island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago, Homo floresiensis. [Note that this doesn't take into account the status of the still mysterious "Denisovan" hominin found in one cave in Russia's Altai Mountains, and that appear to be genetically distinct from both Neandertals and anatomically modern humans!]
Much of Dr. Stringer's book focuses on describing the fossil, biological, genetic and archaeological data and evidence that actually distinguishes anatomically modern humans (i.e., us) from the Neandertal peoples. It is Stringer's contention, and that of much of the paleoanthropological community as well, that anatomically modern humans are not descended from Neandertals, but were a contemporaneous species that shared a common ancestor such as Homo heidelbergensis or Homo antecessor between them and the earlier Homo erectus.
In this book, Dr. Stringer does an excellent job of making the case for an "Out-of-Africa" dispersal for anatomically modern humans that probably began about 90,000-70,000 years ago, and by 45,000 years ago these modern humans, also known as the "Cro-Magnon", had spread into western Europe, the home of the Neandertals for 200,000+ years and ultimately displaced them. It appears that the modern behaviors (e.g., planning, art, improved stone-tool and shelter technologies, language, etc.) and tremendous environmental adaptability exhibited by these new modern peoples was probably enough to pressure the Neandertals to have to shift to small isolated enclaves at the margins of their former range across much of western and central Europe. This diminution of their range and inability to adapt ultimately led to the extinction of the Neandertals approximately 30,000-25,000 years ago.
If you're looking for a good one-volume, easy-to-read, treatment of the origins and relationship between our close cousins, the Neandertals, and ourselves, then I highly recommend this book. Additionally, this volume is profusely illustrated with a terrific collection of photographs that illustrates and supports the fossil evidence for Stringer's contention that anatomically modern humans evolved separately and apart from Neandertals. Finally, if you want the latest--state-of-the-science--information about our human origins, I strongly urge you to read Dr. Stringer's latest book, Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth....more
Ian Tattersall's new book, Masters of the Planet, is an eloquently and well-written story of our human origins. While much of the material included inIan Tattersall's new book, Masters of the Planet, is an eloquently and well-written story of our human origins. While much of the material included in this book was familiar to me, I have to say that Dr. Tattersall's organization and presentation makes this book the perfect gift for someone looking for a thorough but easily understandable first exposure to human evolution. Tattersall's love of systematics, anatomy and taxonomy shines through brightly as he uses the narrative to carefully document, explain and interpret the important fossils and archaeological evidence associated with many of our hominin ancestors.
This anthropological and archaeological detective story begins some 5-6 million years ago and culminates with the origin of anatomically modern humans (i.e., Homo sapiens) in Africa nearly 200,000 years ago, and subsequent dispersal through much of the rest of world starting about 60,000 years ago. This is the elegantly told story of--to borrow a phrase--"bones, stones, and molecules" that provides Tattersall's synthesis and interpretations of the current state-of-knowledge associated with the fossil evidence, the stone-tool traditions, and the latest genetic data. Finally, for those who are interested, Tattersall has provided twenty pages of detailed notes and bibliographic source citations for each chapter at the end of the book. I really enjoyed reading Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins, and unhesitatingly recommend it for those interested in the natural and biological sciences....more
This is an amazing book! It is perhaps better characterized as a naturalist's 'Field Guide' to the history of the evolution of human species (i.e., thThis is an amazing book! It is perhaps better characterized as a naturalist's 'Field Guide' to the history of the evolution of human species (i.e., the hominins). The authors present a relatively detailed synopsis of the current state-of-knowledge associated with each of the 22 hominin species portrayed in the book, starting with Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Ororrin tugenensis at about 6 million years ago, and then finishing up with anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens. Along with the background information about each species, the authors have supplied beautifully reconstructed images of what these individuals may have looked like in the habitats they are thought to have occupied. They have taken casts of the fossils and added tendons, muscles, flesh, skin, and hair. The results are simply astounding. As just one superb example, the cover of the book is their rendition of the famous Australopith, "Lucy", the fossil of the little female Australopithecus afarensis discovered by Donald Johanson in 1974. It takes your breath away just to look into her face and realize that she and her kind represent something like 800,000-900,000 years in the several million year old history of the human species. This is a book that one can spend hours with every time you take it from the shelf, and learn something new each time too....more