Dawn of Man
, which accompanies a BBC television series, tells the story of human evolution, warts and all, over the last 4 million years or so. From a shared ancestor with the higher apes, an upright, walking ape-human in Africa, McKie takes our story through the Ice Age to domination by modern humans.
One of the few unique attributes of humans, which sets us apart from our nearest living relatives, the chimps, is a concern with our own history. Although anthropologists and archaeologists have conducted serious scientific investigation of our ancestry for well over 150 years, it is still a bit surprising how little we know.
The quest to discover our story is a bit like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture to tell us what the finished puzzle should look like. To further the metaphor, we also have no idea how many pieces there are altogether, and the few pieces we do have are mostly incomplete. Practically any new bit of evidence can change our idea of the overall picture, so the story of human evolution is constantly changing. As science editor for Britain's Observer newspaper, McKie is able to provide a very readable and up-to-date account of our remarkable story.
One of the most compelling questions explored by McKie concerns our relationship with the Neanderthal people, who died out 30,000 years ago. Comparison of Neanderthal DNA with that of living humans suggests that our ancestors did not interbreed with the Neanderthals. Recently, however, skeletons have been found that seem to show a complete mixture of Neanderthal and modern human (Cro-Magnon) characters. In Dawn of Man, McKie quotes extensively from interviews with the scientists who work on human prehistory, so we get as close as possible to the bare bones of the story. The excellent text, art work, photos, and graphics in Dawn of Man make it a capable stand-alone, very attractive for the general reader. --Douglas Palmer
From Publishers Weekly
Plentifully adorned with photos and drawings, McKie's very accessible work follows two interwoven, compelling stories. The first is the story of all of usAfrom the first "bipedal apemen, probably Australopithecus afarensis," to the Neanderthals who competed with modern humans' ancestors during the last Ice Age. The second story is the story of how the first got told: it's all about paleoanthropologists (especially Kenya's Leakey family and their co-workers) and the fossils they hunt and interpret. McKie (African Exodus), the science editor for Britain's Observer, has fashioned his book as a tie-in for the six-hour BBC-TV series of the same name, scheduled for American broadcast on the Learning Channel in early August. He begins with bipedalism, evidenced in a famous pair of footprints. Then there are skulls, like Australian anatomist Raymond Dart's much-debated Taung child, which established our African descent. Ongoing debates about early language bring in the Nariokotome boy, a well-preserved Homo erectus: do his spine and rib cage entitle us to conclude that his species couldn't speak? "La Sima de los Huesos" (the Pit of Bones) in northern Spain yields lots of bones and our earliest knowledge about people in Europe (it turns out they ate one another). Other topics include intercontinental migration, diet, the history of the stone axe, hunting strategies, Ice Ages, fire, and the beginnings of culture and art. Readers who know zilch about protohumansAwhether or not they also catch the TV showAwill find McKie's volume a wonderful place to start: amateurs of paleoanthropology will find that McKie's details, sidebars, notes and examples cater to their interest and capture the current state of the field. (Aug.)
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