Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution

Matthew J Rossano, Author, Matt J Rossano, Author
Matt J. Rossano. Columbia Univ., $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-231-16500-6
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 08/01/2013
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-306-31292-9
Ebook - 121 pages - 978-0-231-53546-5
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The premise of Rossano’s latest (after Supernatural Selection) is exciting, but the execution will leave some readers hungry. The Southeastern Louisiana University psychology prof draws heavily on previous accounts of the harrowing experiences of a rugby team whose plane crashed in 1972 in the Andes, but he mainly looks beyond empirical descriptions to examine the events from a theoretical perspective. Most passengers died immediately, but Rossano is most interested in the 16 who survived brutal cold at a high elevation—for 10 weeks—by living off the remains of their friends. He explores the decisions the survivors made, from dividing up chores to selecting leaders, and investigates how they maintained their sanity and retained their humanity under such extreme conditions. More than using the amazing story to illuminate principles associated with human evolution, however, Rossano uses it as a jumping-off point to discuss anthropological, psychological, and evolutionary ideas, such as the sociological function of rituals, the differences between egalitarian and hierarchical communities, the importance of song and dance, the practices of tool making and burial, as well as the nature of religion. The tie-in to the Andes survivors is sometimes tenuous and speculative, but Rossano’s suppositions and hypotheses are nevertheless thought provoking. Photos & illus. (Aug. 13)
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