In the age of mankind : a Smithsonian book of human evolution

by Roger Lewin

Paper Book, 1988



Call number

GN281 .L52 1988


Washington, D.C. : Smithsonian Books, c1988.


Examines the background and significance of recent discoveries in human evolution.

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LibraryThing member keylawk
"The theory of evolution is not just an inert piece of theoretical science," explains the British philosopher Mary Midgley. "It is, and cannot help being, also a powerful folktale about human origins". [16]
From the emergence of primates 70 million years ago [32], through the major extinction event of 65 million years ago and the rich species bush of apes thriving in the 20 million year Miocene [37], to the separation of the men and apes a mere five to seven million years ago [41], the perception of man's place in nature "has been dramatically altered; we are much closer to the apes than ever before realized". [49]
While flinging elephant dung at each other after serious digging at Laotoli, Mary Leakey and Andrew Hill came upon a set of petrified animal footprints. [50] One of the most incredible discoveries of the late 20th century, petrified hominid footprints -- left by a bipedalist, 3.6 million years ago. By comparison, 3-foot Australopithecus Lucy raised from the fossil bed at the Hadar lived close to 3 million years ago. This prolific bed shows unequivocally that bipedalism came first and then the expansion of the brain case began developing. [59]
Interestingly, the author(s) point out that Darwin predicted, in both ORIGIN and DESCENT, that Africa would be found to be the cradle of Humankind.[59] Although few fossil humans had been discovered, and none in Africa, he reasoned that the closest living relatives of humans, the chimps and gorillas, were first found in Africa, therefore, humans probably arise in Africa. He was right, even to the identification of the Olduvai location.
Gould's ironic comparison between bipedalism and brain-expansion is noted [61]: Once the complex evolutionary transition from four-leg locomotion to two was accomplished, with its sweeping set of anatomical modifications, the subsequent expansion of the brain was just a continuation of the established primate trends.
In the mid-70's, the American archaelogist Lewis Binford analyzed the Olduvai bone and stone relics, and is quoted as saying "The only clear picture obtained is that of a hominid scavenging the kills and death sites of other predators...". [103] Gone the noble hunter, the kening gatherer. Now, the scrounger of leftovers, a meat gleaner. He sees "faint glimmerings of a hunting way of life" first appear between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago. [104] And then true hunting -- big game -- suddenly arrived 45,000 to 35,000 years ago, explosively.
The certain link to meat-eating was not established until the late 1970's, with unequivocal "cut-marks" on the bones from the Zinj site. [106] Butchering. But not necessarily "human". More like apes, "central-place foraging". [108]
The Neandertals, first discovered in 1856 in Deutschland, lived in one of the most critical periods in the history of human evolution--enduring severe winters at the emergent point of homo sapien. Now they are considered outside our direct ancestry. [112] The author dives deeply into the features we share and which distinguish our nearest, and extinct, relative. There seems to be little doubt that humans emerged approximately 115,000 years ago, and the two species "overlapped" in time and space.
But yet half-way through the book, a fascinating presentation of mitochondrial genetics is displayed, emphasizing females, and "Eve" in particular. [130]
In 1940, four young boys entered Lascaux [137]. Paleolithic artists lived only about 14,000 years ago.
The work proceeds to look at language and brain development, including the arrival of consciousness and culture, "those qualities that separate us from our biological heritage" [(!)229].
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Physical description

255 p.; 28 cm


0895990229 / 9780895990228


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