It's time for a hominid family reunion, and anthropologists Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz have brought the scrapbook. Extinct Humans is both an album of knowledge of our ancestors and closely related species and a theoretical reconsideration of the fossil evidence. Tattersall and Schwartz suggest that many more human species existed than we previously thought, and that many of them existed contemporaneously until about 25,000 years ago. Profusely illustrated, the book makes its case well, showing and discussing the evidence and proposing a family history that pulls all the fossils and theories together into a testable whole. The authors have personally investigated every available hominid specimen, and the depth of their knowledge is staggering at times--but their obsession is enlightening and entertaining.
The introductory history of human taxonomy sets us up for the discussions to follow and reminds us of our tendency to read more into human history than can reasonably be inferred from the evidence. The racist sentiments of 19th-century anthropologists found firm footing in their theories, and we can only wonder what mistakes we're making today. Doing their best to eliminate extraneous details, Tattersall and Schwartz provide a lean, parsimonious theory to guide anthropology into the 21st century, as we try to learn why we're the only ones left. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
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 themAdebates 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 treeAlater 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 flutesAevidence of practices that characterize, not Neanderthals, but just us. (July)
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