In this work, leading anthropologist Noel T. Boaz describes how innovative research techniques have transformed our understanding of our earliest human ancestors. By telling the story of his own 20-year quest for the missing link in northern and eastern Africa, Boaz shows how palaeo-anthropology no longer focuses exclusively on individual fossil specimens, but increasingly on geological, faunal, and floral evidence, integrating data from many fields of inquiry into a holistic picture of human evolution. His controversial findings suggest that the drying of the Mediterranean Sea some five million years ago first set humans on their own evolutionary trajectory. Throughout the book Boaz maintains that knowledge of our origins helps to define what makes us truly human and that an "evolutionary perspective" provides a necessary context for addresing many of today's problems.
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``Have they found it?'' will be the query of most readers. The answer is no--not by a long shot--although Boaz (Anthropology/George Washington University) shows that knowledge about early humans has leaped dramatically during the last generation. The Rubicon was 1950, when biological anthropology was born at a conference at Cold Spring Harbor. This new science replaced the old method of studying fossil human specimens--by endlessly categorizing them into ever-finer types--with new disciplines that situated early humans in their social and ecological context. What ancient people ate, when they hunted, even how they made love became issues in the new paleoanthropology, aided by advances in geology, ethology, and taphonomy (the study of how fossils are created and preserved), as well as by new dating methods. Boaz argues strongly for biological anthropology and its tenets, the most controversial of which is that human behavior--gang warfare, for instance--is ``hardwired,'' a result of evolution and natural selection rather than social conditions. Readers will take note, too, of Boaz's chiding of leading paleontologists, including Richard Leakey (for being dictatorial), Stephen Jay Gould (for relying on armchair science), and Donald Johanson (for faulty dating). His own adventures on long, weary, dusty digs in Zaire and Libya are recounted with verve as he addresses key questions--Why did bipedalism develop? What role did climate play in our origins? --and makes his case that humans arose in East Africa 2.5 million years ago. Peppery, informative bones of contention. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
Anthropologists' search for fossil remains of a "missing link"--a half-ape, half-hominid creature that gave rise to both living humans and living apes--remains frustrating. Boaz, an anthropology professor at George Washington University, charges that "paleoanthropologists search for humanity's origin not where it likely occurred but where the deposits are most accessible and the logistics easiest." His captivating report blends an account of his fieldwork in Africa, a survey of controversies over the last 40 years, and close-ups of such scientists as Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson. Boaz argues that the branching off of gorillas, chimps and hominids on the evolutionary tree could have occurred in a number of places in Africa, not just in East Africa where most research has focused. He also represents a new scenario to account for bipedalism, arguing that as forests shrank, our hominid ancestors began walking upright to traverse open stretches of savanna and, eventually, to migrate, leaving gorillas and chimps behind.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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