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The Dawn of Human Culture 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471252528
ISBN-10: 0471252522
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Editorial Reviews

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* ""...a compelling story...it's a tale worth reading..."" (Focus, July 2002)

From the Inside Flap

The Dawn of Human Culture

Some fifty thousand years ago Homo sapiens, the newest branch of a long and varied tree of evolved apes, suddenly developed a remarkable range of new talents. These people-whose primitive stone culture had previously been little different from that of their ancestors-began painting. They invented music and the instruments to play it. They fashioned jewelry and clothing, created fishing poles and tackle as well as bows and arrows, constructed the oldest substantial houses, and buried their dead with ritual and ceremony. This creative explosion, occurring over such a remarkably short period, has been called the "big bang" of human culture.

It was the fourth in a series of punctuated events that have marked the history of human evolution. The first occurred between seven and five million years ago when a group of African apes, in response to shrinking forests and expanding open savannas, began to walk upright. These are the bipedal apes of which Lucy and her kin are the most famous. The next occurred about two and a half million years ago, again during a time of global climatic change resulting in major environmental disruption, when the first stone-tool makers emerged. The third occurred about 1.8 million years ago when humans developed modern body proportions and colonized largely treeless environments for the first time.

So what accelerated our cultural development? What made us who we are?

Now, for the first time, preeminent anthropologist Richard Klein tackles this mystery, one of the great enigmas of our evolution. With Blake Edgar, he works his way forward through time as Homo developed, looking for clues, discarding false leads, and examining why other species of man such as the Neanderthals failed to develop a similar culture-and failed to survive. He reexamines the archeological evidence, including the latest findings, and considers new discoveries in the study of human genetics. This journey leads him to a bold new theory involving the brain that could solve the mystery of our origins and that points the way for future studies.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471252522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471252528
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #451,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By William Holmes VINE VOICE on July 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Dawn of Human Culture" proposes a theory for the "big bang" in human consciousness, an event that occurred about 50,000 years ago for reasons that are not entirely clear. The archaeological record suggests that humans became physically modern about 120,000 years ago--if you could dress a human from that time in modern clothes, he or she would blend in on the streets of any modern city.
Behavior, however, is a different matter. The authors present a very strong case that whatever it is that makes us fully "human" did not appear until about 50,000 years ago. At about that time, people suddenly started engaging in recognizably modern behaviors--producing stunning cave paintings, carving figurines, making complex ornaments, burying their dead with ritual, building semi-permanent structures, assembling an intricate tool kit, and expanding throughout the world. The authors readily concede that there are a few ambiguous examples of similar behavior among more ancient Neanderthals and archaic homo sapiens, but the change after 50,000 years ago is a flood compared to the trickle that came before it.
To unravel the mystery of this abrupt event, the authors start with the appearance of australopithicenes and other "hominids" that may or may not be ancestral to modern humans. They then carry the tale forward, describing "revolutions" in tool making and other behavior (of which there were very few before 50,000 years ago).
I was impressed by how careful the authors were in laying out their arguments for the lay reader. Each point is clearly made, and the authors give fair treatment to scientists with whom they disagree. They scrupulously note when they have chosen to accept one point of view over another.
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Format: Hardcover
There are in-depth reviews on this site that do justice to this otherwise excellent book. I would like to focus here on the one singularly troubling aspect (of this book) that has not received much attention in the other reviews.

The book's cover gives the impression that it reveals and expounds on a significant new theory on the genesis of human consciousness. At the least, a glance at the cover will give the impression that this theory is the central thesis of the book.

Much to my surprise and disappointment, however, I had to wait till the last 3-4 pages to discover what this 'bold new theory' was! Klein merely speculates in a few paragraphs that there was a fortuitous genetic mutation, circa 50,000 years ago, that resulted in a significant advance in human brain fuction.

There is no discussion on where this mutation occurred. If Homo Sapiens had already spread out of Africa by this time (as Klein states), how did the mutation effect all of humanity? If this is such a 'bold new theory', why does Klein spend so little space discussing it? Klein admits that no physical evidence for such a hypothesis can be found - the theory is not testable. Nevertheless, this does not let him off the hook for giving his thesis the detailed exposition that it deserves.

Undoubtedly, Richard Klein is one of the greatest anthropologists today. Given that, I am disappointed that he would (ostensibly) resort to a flashy title to increase this book's popularity. Klein's theory may well be actually what happened, but then it surely deserves a more in-depth treatment than what is presented here.

If you want to read a succinct account of human evolution and tool making, this book will satisfy you. There are a few other books, however, that are better in this respect. I was expecting more.....
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I still don't know how Richard Klein and Blake Edgar managed to get so much of the story of human evolution into 277 pages. My guess is that Klein owes much to Edgar, who, as a professional science editor, had already co-authored a book with eminent paleoanthropologist, Donald Johansen. The book is just about as technical as the general reader can absorb, while patiently explaining, often repeatedly, why certain developments need to be understood. We get detailed explanations of all current geochronology techniques, along with the limitations of each. We learn how to overlay paleomagnetic dating to test dating processes. We also get a very readable sequence of craniodental morphologies among early hominids, along with explanations of why some of these hominids are, and some are not, our direct ancestors. The thoroughness of the presentation on artifact dating is more typical of academic writing, but Klein and Edgar believe we general readers need it, and they trust us to understand it. You will never be confused again about Oldovan, Acheulean, Mousterian, and Upper Paleolithic cultures, or how they fit into the Early, Middle, and Late Stone Ages. The illustrations are extremely useful, whether dealing with geochronology, hominid remains, artifacts, or migration patterns. Where this book stands above the field is in its treatment of the dispersion of hominids from Africa, intertwined with their anatomy and behavior. Klein and Edgar take particular care that we follow their logic that Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis share a common ancestor with Homo sapiens, likely Homo ergaster, but that they evolved on separate branches, leaving no descendants. For this, the authors rely on genetic analysis of the Y chromosome, correctly presuming that the general reader will not want excessive detail.Read more ›
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