Extinct Humans

Ian Tattersall, Author, Jeffrey Schwartz, Author, Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Joint Author Basic Books $50 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8133-3482-0
Stone tools and fossilized jawbones meet complex, reticulated theories from the history of anthropology and evolution in this attractively produced introduction to the vexed world of early hominids. Tattersall and Schwartz (who took many of the book's b&w photos) describe their popularly intended work as the by-product of a continuing paleontological goal: the authors want to describe ""the huge variety of human fossils according to a single consistent protocol."" The first chapter covers the history of speculation about human origins, from Aristotle's to Goethe's concepts to discovery of the 1856 Feldhofer Grotto Neanderthal fossil, to today's debates about the branching trees of Homo and Australopithecus. Then we're off to the fossils themselves and to the vigorous debates about them--debates until recently carried on with too little data and too little reference to norms of nonanthropoid paleontology. Was Robert Broom's Kromdraai hominid (1938) a new genus of proto-humans, Paranthropus? His reasons for saying so wouldn't have held water had he been classifying, say, sea urchins. Skull contours, pelvis shapes, tooth types, climate change and fossil footprints enter into the debates Tattersall (The Fossil Trail; The Last Neanderthal) and Schwartz (Skeleton Keys; Sudden Origins) record. Previous paleoanthropologists, the authors explain, tried too hard to imagine a single line culminating in Homo sapiens. Hominid history ought to look less like a queue than like a tree--later chapters explore that tree and its fruits. The authors clearly describe recent discoveries in China; map hypothesized early-human migrations; cover the decline of the Neanderthals; and consider Western Europe's trove of cave paintings and bone flutes--evidence of practices that characterize, not Neanderthals, but just us. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-8133-3918-4
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