cover image Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind

Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind

Kermit Pattison. Morrow, $32.50 (544p) ISBN 978-0-06-241028-3

In this lively debut, journalist Pattison digs into the story of Ardi, a 4.4-million-year-old hominid skeleton with profound evolutionary ramifications. At the heart of this tale is Tim White, a Berkeley professor with a “monastic devotion to fossils,” who led the team that discovered Ardi in Ethiopia’s Middle Awash region in 1994 and spent 15 years studying the remains. Pattison describes the digs that unearthed Ardi, an ancestor of modern homo sapiens more than a million years older than the more famous Lucy, and captures White and company’s grueling expeditions to Ethiopia, where they had to navigate political tensions to retrieve the fossils and, after nine years, take them abroad for study. Pattison ably combines the adventure yarn with scientific minutiae, tracking the team’s findings, which ultimately refuted the theory that modern apes are close relics of a common human ancestor. Pattison doesn’t neglect the academic backlash against this challenge to conventional wisdom (one professor called them “so far wrong as to be laughable”) and makes vivid characters of the Ardi team. Though Pattison goes deep on the science, the abundance of detail gets to be a bit much. Nevertheless, those interested in human origins should check out this vivid and thorough study. Agent: Dan Conaway, Writers House. (Nov.)