cover image Dawn of Man: The Story of Human Evolution

Dawn of Man: The Story of Human Evolution

DK Publishing, Robin McKie. DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley), $30 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-7894-6262-6

Plentifully adorned with photos and drawings, McKie's very accessible work follows two interwoven, compelling stories. The first is the story of all of us--from the first ""bipedal apemen, probably Australopithecus afarensis,"" to the Neanderthals who competed with modern humans' ancestors during the last Ice Age. The second story is the story of how the first got told: it's all about paleoanthropologists (especially Kenya's Leakey family and their co-workers) and the fossils they hunt and interpret. McKie (African Exodus), the science editor for Britain's Observer, has fashioned his book as a tie-in for the six-hour BBC-TV series of the same name, scheduled for American broadcast on the Learning Channel in early August. He begins with bipedalism, evidenced in a famous pair of footprints. Then there are skulls, like Australian anatomist Raymond Dart's much-debated Taung child, which established our African descent. Ongoing debates about early language bring in the Nariokotome boy, a well-preserved Homo erectus: do his spine and rib cage entitle us to conclude that his species couldn't speak? ""La Sima de los Huesos"" (the Pit of Bones) in northern Spain yields lots of bones and our earliest knowledge about people in Europe (it turns out they ate one another). Other topics include intercontinental migration, diet, the history of the stone axe, hunting strategies, Ice Ages, fire, and the beginnings of culture and art. Readers who know zilch about protohumans--whether or not they also catch the TV show--will find McKie's volume a wonderful place to start: amateurs of paleoanthropology will find that McKie's details, sidebars, notes and examples cater to their interest and capture the current state of the field. (Aug.)