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The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans Hardcover – December 20, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
In recent years, paleontologists have feuded over the origins—long assumed to be African—of our very distant ancestors, the anthropoid primates. Fossil expert Beard presents his controversial case for Asia in this dense chronicle. Searching in central China for bones from the Eocene epoch, Beard's assistant Wen Chaohua, a local farmer, found an extraordinarily intact fossil jaw of the tiny prosimian Eosimias ("dawn monkey"). This jaw, Beard believes, will link small Asian primates such as tarsiers with the distant anthropoid ancestors of humans. Not exactly the Bigfoot-like missing link of popular imagination, but as Beard notes wryly, "The dirty little secret of paleoanthropology is that, while there are plenty of missing links, they don't occur where most people think they do." Knowing his findings will create an "academic brouhaha," Beard spends 300 pages building an intricate case for his tarsier theory. To establish context and popularize the subject, he describes the work of Georges Cuvier (1769–1832) and other noted paleontologists. But he also includes endless details about tiny skulls and their components, scientific conferences, global climate change hypotheses and the minutiae of Darwinist theory. Tales of harsh field expeditions make for good reading, and Beard's findings tell a startling scientific story, but information overload keeps this book from being suitable for most general readers. Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Popular interest in human origins is strong, especially in the evolutionary fork splitting hominids from the great apes; however, there is less interest in the preceding evolutionary fork, which separated anthropoids (monkeys, apes, and humans) from prosimians (lemurs and tarsiers). Explaining when and where that happened is the controversial subject of this book because the author, a young vertebrate paleontologist at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History, is apparently agitating this specialized field by challenging orthodox theories. Traditionalists believe the anthropoids evolved in North Africa in the late Eocene epoch (about 34 million years ago), but Beard touts China and the early Eocene (about 57 million years ago). Since this bone war turns on interpretations of finger-size fossils of jaws and teeth, passages in Beard's account can be textbook technical, but otherwise, it bows to historical personages of paleontology and includes incidents from Beard's interesting fossil-hunting expeditions around the world. Those two features are of perennial appeal to general-interest readers and enhance Beard's capable presentation of an overlooked topic. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Chris Beard is an expert in primatology from the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. His book goes into great detail about the debate over primate evolution. He spends a lot of time discussing the lines of evidence supporting the various theories of anthropoid evolution. He starts with the earliest expeditions and ends with his own discoveries in China. Much of the evidence for all sides comes from fossil dentition, so dentists will enjoy this book. However, while Beard explains the science in detail, he writes clearly and avoids too much jargon, allowing non-dentists (like me) to follow his chain of reasoning.
Beard's proposed thesis is that primates evolved neither from adapids or tarsier-like ancestors (omomyids), but rather from a third proto-anthropoid. He bases his conclusion largely on Eocene primate fossils he discovered in China (Eosimias - literally the "dawn monkey") that look more like anthropoids and haven't yet specialized to the same degree as tarsiers and lemurs. I personally found his conclusions convincing - more so that the "adapid theory" proposed in The Link. However, more importantly, Beard goes through each theory and objectively describes the evidence for and against. In fact, most of the book dwells on the evolution of the debate over primate evolution rather than simply pushing his argument. I found this useful for readers who were not initiated into the debate. While Beard has his own preferred theory, he provides enough evidence for readers to make their own decisions.
This book was published before The Link, but I think it is still definitely worth reading. The authors of The Link criticize Beard's thesis for relying too much on statistics and fragmented fossils, rather than whole specimens like Ida. Beard has responded in an op-ed suggesting that Ida is merely another adapid/lemur, not an ancestor of anthropoids ([...]). Even if the Ida fossil changes the debate, The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey will provide you with the necessary context and background to be able to look at this debate objectively and intelligently.
In short, if you liked The Link and have the time and patience to read a more thorough book, you'll love The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey.