- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Times Books; 1 edition (March 13, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805088911
- ISBN-13: 978-0805088915
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.1 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #651,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth 1st Edition
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“If you want an engaging read about the Out of Africa theory for modern humans, Lone Survivors by paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer is for you. Stringer's stimulating writing will carry you from the beginning to the end of this important book.” ―Don Johanson, Founding Director, Institute of Human Origins Arizona State University
“Lone Survivors is a magnificent achievement: rich, informative, and comprehensive. Simply the best book on current state-of-the-art human evolutionary studies I have read. I recommend it as the first step for anyone entering this field--and for those who have already taken their first steps, it provides the overview we would all like to have. The book makes a messy field neat and much easier to navigate in. Bravo!” ―Peter C. Kjaergaard, Professor and Director of Interdisciplinary Evolutionary Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark
“Stringer points out that most scientists agree that our first hominid ancestors appeared in Africa 5 million years ago; many species evolved, and a few wandered north about 2 million years ago. Where Homo sapiens originated and how it came out on top remains a matter of intense debate, but Stringer marshals the latest evidence and concludes that his own opinion is correct: Modern humans appeared in a small area of Africa about 200,000 years ago and then moved across the world exchanging genes, tools and behavior with rival human species before supplanting them. Besides trying to make sense of headline-producing fossil and archeological discoveries, the author explains dazzling advances that have solved many problems: precise techniques for dating, DNA studies, isotope analysis to determine an ancient species' diet and travels, CT scans to reveal hidden and even microscopic details and geometric morphometrics and stereolithography to re-create, manipulate and compare skulls and other structures.” ―Kirkus
“Famed paleoanthropologist Stringer once challenged multiregionalists (who argue that modern humans developed from ancient ancestors in different parts of the world) by proposing that humans emerged rapidly in one part of Africa and then went forth to replace all other hominid species. Now he challenges himself, using new evidence to proclaim that distinct humans coexisted, competed, and even interbred throughout the African continent. ” ―Library Journal
“Stringer explores . . . the major trends in human evolutionary theory since Darwin's time, following the pendulum of scientific opinion as it swings from multiregionalism--the idea that humans evolved through various phases around the globe, with no place serving as a particular origin--to recent African origin theory, and back. Though a prominent out of Africa proponent, Stringer refines his earlier ideas, still focusing on an African beginning, but investigating the possibility that humans interbred with Neanderthals and other ancient humans. The book digs into fossil finds, advanced dating methods, and genetic tools, and shows how experts can deduce so much about our millennia-dead ancestors.” ―Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Chris Stringer is the author of The Complete World of Human Evolution, Homo britannicus, and more than two hundred books and papers on the subject of human evolution. One of the world's foremost paleoanthropologists, he is a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He has three children and lives in Sussex and London.
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Top Customer Reviews
The author deals mainly with the origins, cultures and travels of Erectus, Heidelbergensis, the Neanderthals and Sapiens. So, the book is focused on our species as the "lone survivor" with passing references to much earlier species. Springer also pays attention to the Neanderthals and, I believe, is up-to-date in the DNA science. I especially liked Springer's theory that cultures both grow and degenerate, explaining that physical and cultural changes may not be linear. He touches on art, language, and possible spiritual beliefs. Only occasionally did the author's suppositions not get labelled as such. For example, he mentioned that we are the only species to remember our dreams...
While this book is not a pure academic presentation nor a basic book nor summer beach read, it is written by an experienced scientist who is still entranced with his subject. I came away from this book with much more knowledge, the feeling that I had almost been in a conversation with the author and an admiration for the multiple hominids that walked all over this planet.
This book is worth a read and re-read! It has, by the way, a great bibliography. For more reviews, please check with AmazonUK.
In just under 280 pages, Chris Stringer takes the reader through the history of our human origins with the fossil evidence. He synthesizes the latest advances in knowledge associated with paleoclimatology, geochronological dating methods, and geology and plate tectonics. Most importantly, Stringer spends much of the book talking about the evolution of human behavior (e.g., developing and utilizing technology, use of symbolism, developing survival and coping strategies, burial of dead, etc.). The evolutionary steps leading to Homo sapiens wasn't a given. It was really a very near run thing, and without the ability to rapidly adapt and respond to changing climate conditions and subsequent changed ecological conditions modern humans could quite likely have become extinct just as our close cousins, the Neanderthals, did about 30,000 years ago. For example, the massive supervolcanic eruption of Toba on the island of Java was very nearly a game-changer for all human species about 73,000 years ago. Finally, over the past couple of decades or so, much of the OOA hypothesis has been validated and bolstered with the results of numerous studies and analyses of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome DNA. In other words, we really and truly are all African.
While all of this discussion of fossils, paleoconditions, and genetics may sound a bit daunting, complicated, or even off-putting, Dr. Stringer does a sterling job of leading the reader--whether layperson or specialist--through the data and evidence with his well-written and entertaining prose. I've kind of come to realize that Stringer and his peers--paleoanthropologists--are really much akin to detectives hot on the trail to better understand when we became who we are, and how we became who we are, and perhaps even be able to answer why. This book will definitely help you get your arms (and brain) around the critical issues and questions associated with what makes us human
In closing, it is my opinion that Chris Stringer's incredibly thought-provoking Chapter 8 of the book, "Making A Modern Human" ought to be required reading by all of us. I don't know that I have underlined more passages or made more marginalia notes in a book since I left college in the mid-1980s. Reading this book, and Chapter 8 in particular, has stimulated a desire in me to chase down a lot of the technical references and journal articles that Dr. Stringer has provided in the book's extensive bibliography. This is a subject that profoundly fascinates me, and I am committed to educate myself and better understand my human origins, and have nothing but admiration and gratitude to Chris Stringer for inspiring me toward this end. All I can say is read Lone Survivors, it really is one of the most comprehensive overviews of the current state-of-knowledge associated with our human origins that I've read.
Chris Stringer is one of the venerable grandfathers in the study of human evolution. He’s read the papers, attended the conferences, examined the skulls, and had a ringside seat at the noisy catfights. This field of knowledge is far from finished. New specimens continue to be found, and new technology provides deeper insights. Stringer’s book, Lone Survivors, discusses some primary issues, and the scholarly disputes surrounding them, as they stood in 2012. He does a pretty good job of providing an overview to a huge and complex subject, but readers with little background are advised to wear life preservers.
I learned a lot about Neanderthals. They survived 400,000 years on a climate change roller coaster. They hung out with hippos in warm forests near Rome, and they chased wooly mammoths on frigid treeless tundra. They had short, stocky bodies that were good for preserving heat, but which required more calories. Males and females were about the same size, suggesting little division of labor, everyone joined in the hunt.
The Neanderthal diet majored in the flesh of large game. Readers who have hunted hippos with wooden thrusting spears know that his is very dangerous. One site in Croatia contained the remains of 75 Neanderthals, and none were older than 35. In their clans, there were probably many orphans and few grandparents. The scarcity of elders, and the small size of their groups, sharply restricted the flow of cultural information from one generation to the next, and from clan to clan.
Some say that Neanderthals lacked shoes and close-fitting clothing. When Darwin visited chilly Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of South America, he was shocked to see natives wearing little or no clothing and sleeping naked in the open. Stringer noted that modern Europeans seem to be poorly adapted to the cold, physiologically.
Cro-Magnons were the Homo sapiens that moved into Europe maybe 45,000 years ago. European Neanderthals disappeared around 30,000 years ago. Neanderthals went extinct in the Middle East, Siberia, Gibraltar, and Britain at different times, probably for different reasons. This was an era of frequent climate zigzags. When temperatures plummeted, habitable territories shrank, and fewer folks could be fed.
Cro-Magnons apparently had footwear and warm, fitted clothing. They had better tools for hunting, so their diet was more diverse and dependable. They were able to extract more nutrients from an ecosystem, so they could survive in places where Neanderthals could not. They lived in larger groups, and more of them survived to middle age or old age, so more cultural information could be passed to the young.
Large populations are better at preserving cultural knowledge, acquiring new information from outsiders, and generating innovations. More busy minds interact, exchange ideas, compete, and imagine cool ways for living even farther out of balance. Witness the city of Los Angeles, where 14 million animals with hunter-gatherer DNA are temporarily able to survive because of a highly complex system of innovative technology. Note that this innovation has no relationship to foresight or wisdom. Time is running out on Los Angeles.
On the other hand, less innovation occurs in smaller simpler groups, and that’s often a blessing. Innovators can be dangerous loose cannons, introducing risky new ideas that result in horrid unintended consequences — like cell phones, automobiles, or agriculture. Nothing is more precious than a stable, sustainable, time-proven way of living, where the secret to success is simply imitating your ancestors, conforming to the norm, and enjoying life, like the chimps and gorillas do.
When the planet heated up 14,000 years ago, rising sea levels submerged the land link between Australia and Tasmania, terminating the exchange of people, ideas, and gadgets. Tasmania’s traditional way of life was also squeezed as the warmer climate spurred the expansion of heavy forest. The natives experienced a cultural meltdown. “Tasmanians appear to have led an increasingly simplified life, forgoing apparently valuable skills and technologies, such as bone and hafted tools, nets and spears used to catch fish and small game, spear throwers and boomerangs, and anything but the simplest of skin clothing.”
Will climate change have a similar effect on industrial civilization in the coming decades? Will it slash food production, sharply reduce population, eliminate travel between regions, pull the plug on modern technology, and erase lots of obsolete and unsustainable cultural information? Could collapse have a silver lining?
Climate change can derail any culture, and drive species to extinction. It can also produce beneficial conditions, like the unusually favorable climate of the last 10,000 years. Natural selection rewards species that can adapt to change, and it deletes those that fail. There is another important variable that is often overlooked — genetic drift — mutations that happen all the time when slight boo-boos occur during cell division. These tiny defects can provide a barrel of surprises.
We are repeatedly taught that humans are nature’s flawless masterpiece, the glorious conclusion of three billion years of evolution. But, if Big Mama Nature had experienced slightly different moods over the eons, we might be Neanderthals or Denisovans today (or maybe slime mold). Climate change and genetic drift are purely random. The fact that Homo sapiens is the lone survivor among the hominid species is not absolute proof of superiority, but it does indicate a temporary streak of good luck.
Homo heidelbergensis was an ancestor that lived 500,000 years ago. They had brains ranging in size from 1100 to 1400 cc (modern brains average 1350 cc). The average Neanderthal brain was 1600 cc — much bigger than ours. Stringer noted that our brains today are ten percent smaller than our Homo sapiens ancestors of 20,000 years ago. Is there a message here?
Without words, chimps and gorillas can express contentment, affection, irritation, excitement. But without complex language, they are more trapped within themselves. Language took us “into new and shared worlds that were unknown to our ancestors.” We can talk about the here and now, the past, the future, abstract concepts, feelings, imaginary worlds, and so on.
Later, innovative geniuses invented the use of symbols. Now we can convert words into patterns of squiggly lines, for example: “computer.” Writing enables us to communicate with folks in faraway places. I can read words written by Julius Caesar, and so might the generations yet-to-be-born, in theory. Industrial civilization cannot exist without symbols — numbers, graphs, pictures, status symbols. Progress abounds with powerful and dangerous juju.
Stringer is a mild mannered humanist. And so, he portrays the human journey as one of admirable advancement (the chimps fall down laughing). On the last page, he confesses a profound doubt. “Sometimes the difference between failure and success in evolution is a narrow one, and we are certainly on a knife edge now as we confront an overpopulated planet and the prospect of global climate change on a scale that humans have never faced before. Let’s hope our species is up to the challenge.”
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