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The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans

4.6 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300100471
ISBN-10: 0300100477
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Remarkable in scope and clarity, this stunning collaboration among scientists, scholars and artists reveals the vast panorama of hominid evolution. The project began when the Fossil Hominid Reconstruction and Research Team, led by anthropologist Sawyer and paleoartist Deak, began reconstructing fossilized skulls and skeletons, using meticulous procedures of forensic anatomical reconstruction to build three-dimensional models of contemporary humankind's known predecessors. Paleontological and anatomical data for each species were combined with anthropological and climatological research to produce this volume, covering 22 species and 7 million years. As chapters move chronologically from our most primitive antecedents, the poorly known "ape-men" of the African Sahel, through more well-known ancestors, such as the Australopithicines, Homo habilis and Neanderthals, the data grows in complexity and quantity; happily, fictional accounts of individual hominids draw readers into each new chapter. Illustrated with astonishingly life-like portraits of long-gone species, this volume also includes appendices that describe in detail how those portraits were achieved. Both inspiring and humbling, this look at humanity's ancestors-the worlds they inhabited, the challenges they faced and the legacies they left behind-is fascinating, informative, and deeply provocative.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

As paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall points out in his introduction to this marvelous new book on our ancestors, we Homo sapiens find ourselves in the unusual situation of being alone on the planet as the sole surviving hominid. For most of the history of the hominid lineage, the world was home to coexisting prehumans and humans. From paleontological and anthropological data previously available only in scientific publications, the authors have created an accessible field guide to our extinct cousins. Beginning each section with a short slice-of-life story about the species in question brings that hominid to life, with the supportive scientific evidence following. Skulls are often the most common or complete fossil evidence, so they are well described, along with other remains (bones and/or tools), fossil sites, other associated animals, the probable climate, and a discussion of the species' classification. Striking illustrations accompany the write-ups and breathe life into dry fossil bones. This very current book explains the science as it now stands and is a must-buy for all libraries. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (June 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300100477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300100471
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.8 x 10.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #213,390 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is the work of the artists and scientists of the Fossil Hominid Reconstruction and Research Team. Sawyer is the physical anthropologist, Deak is the paleoartist, and Sarmiento wrote the text. They take all that is known about each species within the genera Australopithicus, Ardipithicus, and Homo, and synthesize that data into stunning, beautiful, and somewhat disturbing likenesses of individuals. Whether in forecasting the future or in reconstructing the past, the further you get from the present day, the more uncertainty is introduced. The authors admit to a blending of science and art, and they admit that the more flimsy the fossil record, the greater their artistic license. It is said that all of the known fossils of proto-humans would fit in the bed of a pickup truck, and it is with this implicit caveat in mind that you must evaluate the accuracy of the reconstructions. Also, only bone fossilizes, and this is a book about soft tissue, so there is considerable inductive logic implicit in the reconstructions. The result is simply phenomenal, and we all owe a great deal to Sawyer, Deak, and Sarmiento for their scholarship and their inspiration. My guess is that any future corrections to their work will likely appear immaterial to the scientifically literate general reader which is their target audience.

The paleoanthropological discoveries in the text of this elegant photo album of proto-humans have been published before; the reason you will want to read this book is to meet your family in the flesh, to see what your ancestors looked like. Take each reconstruction as a hypothesis; this is what they most likely looked like, based on our current interpretation of the fossil record.
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Format: Hardcover
There's a great deal of information available to the interested seeker of human origins. What has been lacking is a good descriptive overview and logical arrangement of the fossils found. Sawyer and Deak have responded to that need with this volume. Arranged in order of the oldest to the youngest of fossil specimens, the authors summarise which parts have been uncovered. In addition, they further descriptions of the likelihood of bipedalism, the known locations with assumed roaming areas, the associated wildlife and climate information. A special feature presents the way the "man-ape" probably appeared in its natural habitat.

The oldest fossils are very fragmentary and lead more to suggestions as to how they fit in the human lineage. Some clearly were successful creatures in their own right, but likely lie in a line that died out in time. Those aged pieces need further finds to establish their place - the chief reason the authors describe the probable range they inhabited. Later, more complete, fossils offer more information. The authors begin depicting fossil pieces in a restored placement with Australopithicus afarensis, the now-famous "Lucy" revealed by Don Johanson and his team in 1973. The authors provide an almost startling image of this hominid searching the savannah for her "lost daughter" - a very human characteristic. Laetoli's preserved footprints are described with the implications for how close to modern humans A. afarensis could stride.

After "Lucy's" time, about 3.5 million years ago, hominids developed into many and varied types. Lucy's fossils were found in Ethiopia, but a million years later a new species, with robust jaws and bearing a crested cranium appeared. Paranthropus aethiopicus had nutcracker jaws and was more sturdily built than Lucy.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans" is a numinous, scientifically accurate, and artistically inspired depiction of human evolution - the ultimate extended family photo album and history - that follows the emergence of 22 human species from our primordial cradle in Africa six to seven million years ago to the dawn of Homo sapiens.

Unlike overly popularized accounts, "The Last Human" unflinchingly notes that Homo sapiens was not an inevitable outcome. Environment and contingency generated, and the fossil record documents, a hominid family tree sprouting many branches including forerunners, relatives, and extinctions. Photorealistic three-dimensional reconstructions portray hominids such as Australopithecus afarensis, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo erectus, and Homo neanderthalensis (among others) with startling and emotionally evocative intensity.

The accompanying text provides a comprehensive account of each species with information on its emergence, chronology, geographic range, classification, physiology, lifestyle, habitat, environment, cultural achievements, co-existing species, and possible reasons for extinction.

By masterfully merging scientific insight and artistic interpretation into a coherent and compelling whole "The Last Human" eloquently articulates how family history is everyone's heritage. This is a category-defining book that deserves to be widely read. It has my highest recommendation.

Also try Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade,
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