The time before history : 5 million years of human impact

by Colin Tudge

Paperback, 1996




New York, NY : Simon & Schuster, 1997, c1996.


"In this lyrical and engaging exploration, Colin Tudge undertakes an ambitious task: to place the narratives of human and planetary coevolution within the same frame, to expand our perspective on our own history, and to tell the story of the human impact on planet Earth. Our sense of history, the author argues, has become so truncated that it is measured in months and years, occasionally decades, infrequently centuries. The Time Before History is a corrective, a record of the preface to modern life - of the period known as the Plio/Pleistocene, from 5 million years past to the birth of civilization some 10,000 years ago." "Tudge paints a broad canvas of our last 5 million years with fascinating descriptions of the waxing and waning of species and populations because of climate changes and plate tectonics, including massive migrations around the planet; the fabulous animals that covered the earth when our ancestors first emerged; the unique and exquisitely destructive characteristics of the first neo-apes, from their ability to exploit the savanna while living safely in the trees to the advantages of the rotating shoulder joint, which permitted missile throwing and thus changed the risk-reward balance of hunting forever." "Drawing upon the disciplines of geology, anthropology, archaeology, earth science, and climatology, the Time Before History is the first popular account of this critical period and is a truly original contribution to the intertwined narratives of humanity and its planet."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jpsnow
This is easily the best summary of evolution, ecology, and classification that I have encountered. Tudge presents a balanced view by presenting all of the competing theories regarding such matters as continental drift, the evolution of various species, and the history of man during the millions of years previous to "history." He then synthesizes the various elements and brings out the implications on our current course (as we will repeat ancient history too). The last part of his book comes as somewhat of a surprise as he then argues adamantly for tight controls on population, conservation, and the environment. The views are supported by the hypothesis that man has already destroyed much of Earth's fauna, but this still represents the arrogant perspective that we own evolution and nature. Regarding the ideas themselves, I found much of it intriguing (e.g. it sparked ideas about object-oriented simulation). His combining the various theories on human evolution into an expanded candelabra hypothesis makes sense. The modern refinements on classical evolution involve the addition of game theory (species prevail over another by being better able to make it through hard times and thus gaining in territory). There are also a good number of basic ecological principles expounded, regarding predators tending to hunt for their own size, carnivores having to take bigger risks, species numbering in proportion to their size. Humans are presented as having come about because the swinging arms of apes were needed to be used in other ways once we came back to the ground -- to make tools and throw missiles. According to Tudge, we are the ultimate generalists and that has meant worldwide success for us and the devastation of other species, including the giant sloths, mammoths, and baby elephants that were all allegedly still in North America at even the beginning of "ancient" history. I can't close without touching on the declared impact of contintental drift, creating mountains and islands, causing the necessary separation of clades and joining (around to the other side of the earth) and providing explanation for the Biblical phenomena of floods. The effect of the Himalaya's on the climate is not quite defended yet but is an interesting speculation. The "overkill hypothesis" -- that we became completely dominant with farming, communication, roads, and tools -- is credible and leaves me in thought about whether such superiority does call for a better approach to active management.… (more)
LibraryThing member TomVeal
The author places the development of Homo sapiens within the context of evolutionary theory, highlighting the instability of the environment and the key to our species' success, viz., its supreme adaptability. The last chapter, a political rant that largely disregards what went before, can be skipped. The writing style is often intolerably cozy.… (more)



Page: 0.1989 seconds