The Fossil Chronicles: How Two Controversial Discoveries Changed Our View of Human Evolution

Dean Falk. Univ. of California, $34.95 (284p) ISBN 978-0-520-26670-4
Falk, an anthropologist with the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, N.M., explores two key discoveries and the fallout they caused among paleoanthropologists regarding their significance for human evolution: the Taung child in South Africa in 1924 and the skeleton nicknamed Hobbit, found on Flores Island, Indonesia, in 2004. The author, closely involved with the latter discovery, vividly captures the excitement of uncovering new knowledge and the passion scientists bring to their work, placing each find in the broader context of its day (doubts about Taung, for instance, followed from the 1912 Pilodown Man hoax), and examining what each find teaches us about ourselves and where we come from. Falk’s tone is conversational—regarding Hobbit, she quotes from her diary, “Yippee Skippee… She ain’t a microcephalic!” —but frequently gives way to dense passages of data. The book is most enlightening in its treatment of the personal politics and rivalries that accompany the scientific process, the internecine quarrels over the specifics of evolution even among scientists who agree on the theory’s broad outlines, and how “scientists… can be as emotionally invested in their explanations of human origins as religious fundamentalists are in theirs. After all, the topic literally entails matters of life and death.” 30 illus. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/19/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 259 pages - 978-0-520-27446-4
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