The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE

Ian Tattersall, Author . Oxford Univ. $19.95 (143p) ISBN 978-0-19-516712-2

Tattersall (Becoming Human ), a curator in the anthropology division of the American Museum of Natural History, uses fossil and archeological records to examine the seven (or so) million years from the dawn of the Hominidae, the family that includes humans, to the gradual development of agriculture and permanent settlements. His topic is huge and his pages are few, but this overview will give readers a sense of the current thinking in the field. Tattersall discusses the characteristics that separate Homo sapiens from extinct hominids, concluding that the gulf between us and our closest relative opened up when our enlarged brains gave rise to symbolic reasoning. Asserting that hominid evolution is more complex than previously thought and that the idea of a linear progression of species is far too simplistic, Tattersall presents mitochondrial DNA evidence that we are not directly related to Neanderthals and declares, “We are not the result of constant fine-tuning over the eons, any more than we are the summit of creation.” Finally, he explains the techniques used to interpret the physical evidence of evolutionary processes. This is an elegant, if brief, introduction to a complex field. 20 b&w illus. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 11/26/2007
Release date: 02/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
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