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on April 22, 2003
Although this book is the "companion" to the Nova TV series it stands well on its own, in a conversational style. The book does a good job of introducing human ancestors, starting with Lucy - the female Australophitcus afarensis, that launched Dr. Johanson's career and fame. Perhaps what the book does best, is introduce the study of paleoanthropology and archeology by presenting both sides of topics. For example: did modern humans all came out of Africa or evolve in separate places throughout Europe and China?; when and why did hominids first walk on two legs (scavenger or hunter)?; are Neanderthal's our ancestors? He presents how studying anatomy helps understand the physical changes needed to walk on two feet and to give birth to a large brained baby. He also introduces the recent idea of "experimental archeology" that conducts trials on current landscapes or prey to see how early hominids may have lived. At the time of the book were the beginnings of studies with mitochondrial DNA. His conclusion about the birth of art, may be tentative, but should provoke interesting thoughts. If you can see the TV special, it also includes conveys a better feel of the conditions the archeologists are working under, and also vintage film of some of the finds.
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on December 18, 2010
As a companion book to a NOVA is was well made. Wonderful cover, tons of photos, many in color, good paper, and Donald Johanson and Lenora Johanson, with help from Blake Edgar, are wonderful authors. They know how to bring a story to life, to make you feel the heat, the sand in your shoes, the people they meet.
The only real problem with it all is it was published in 1994 right on the edge of the next stage of revolutionary discoveries that will rock the very foundations of anthropology. The information collected since then, the ideas that have been born, lived, and died. Our knowledge about Neanderthals alone has shot off like a rocket. Just this YEAR alone, we have learned about the DNA within ourselves that came from them. And also found artwork by them in Spain!
So, it you wish to bring yourself up to date here is some books I would suggest.
First, a old one to read is The Hunters or the Hunted?: An Introduction to African Cave Taphonomy which is also cited in the book. I would also read From Lucy To Language which is a wonderful book that allows you to see the fossils themselves. For the DNA side of the history of humankind I would suggest both The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey and The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry. To round it out, to fill in the details, I would also suggest Extinct Humans, along withThe Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art and the newest What Does It Mean to Be Human?. Funny enough, even they are outdated by this year's discoveries.
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