From Publishers Weekly
Dragon Bone Hill is the name of the archeological site in China where Peking Man was found in the 1920s. Although all of the original Peking Man fossils were lost during the Japanese occupation of China, casts remain and have shown that Peking Man should be classified as Homo erectus, an early ancestor of humans. Ross University anatomist Boaz (Evolving Health) and University of Iowa anthropologist Ciochon (The Human Evolution Source Book) tell two entertaining tales as they explore many facets of the Homo erectus story. The first deals with the discovery of Peking Man and provides much insight into the politics of early paleoanthropology. As part of this story, the authors also attempt to resolve the oft-examined question of what happened to the original fossils. They don't present a great deal of new information and come to the same conclusion as many others (notably Nicole Mones in her novel Lost in Translation), suggesting that, after being discarded by Japanese troops, the fossils were ground up and turned into medicinal products by Chinese locals. Their second story addresses the evolutionary place of Peking Man and presents "hypotheses on the origins of the use of fire, the beginnings of human language, the evolution of the brain, hunting, cannibalism, stone and bone tool use and ancient human diet." They conclude that Homo erectus was primarily a scavenger incapable of speech who had learned to tame but not fully control fire. Accessible to the general reader, this volume provides a nice overview of the subject. B&w illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Homo erectus, among the earliest discoveries of paleoanthropology, has been researched for a century. The entire corpus of knowledge about this human ancestor comes together in Boaz and Ciochon's presentation, which hinges on the most productive site for H. erectus specimens, Zhoukoudian, China. In a famous tragedy, a collection of them vanished in World War II, a mystery that the authors elucidate but are still stymied by; fortunately, much anatomical data about the fossils had been preserved in casts and scientific papers. Incorporating those into subsequent discoveries of H. erectus in Africa, and into modern understanding of the climates with which H. erectus coped, the authors deliver a meticulous, but not forbiddingly technical, survey of evidence from which scientists infer and debate the species' evolution. From areas where consensus reigns--that H. erectus was a head-banging, tool- and fire-using scavenger--Boaz and Ciochon proceed to the most disputatious ground in the field, arguments about whether H. erectus evolved in Africa or elsewhere. Methodically informative, this book best suits readers with a well-developed interest in human origins. Gilbert Taylor
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