The Wisdom of Bones: In Search of Human Origins

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9780297816706: The Wisdom of Bones: In Search of Human Origins

This work tells the story of the excavation of the "Nariokotome Boy", found in Kenya in 1984 by Richard Leakey and Walker, and the most complete skeleton of Homo erectus ever found. The book also details the detective work that followed the find and the insights into our species that were revealed. The "Nariokotome Boy" has been able to tell scientists more about the human past than any other fossil so far. Instead of a human trapped in an ape body, Walker and his team found an animal in a human body - a small brain, but with legs, pelvis and torso that were astonishingly human, along with a thoroughly human adaptation to his tropical climate in terms of body build and heat disposition. The animal had mastered the human "trick" of growing a human brain at foetal rates, something no true animal can do. They also discovered that the Boy was speechless, a fact contradicting the accepted wisdom that language acquisition marks the origin of humankind.

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Review:

Traveling to the desolate rock-strewn deserts of northen Kenya, where the temperature can hit a brutal and dry 130 degrees, would be enough of a trip, but scientist Alan Walker also takes us on a trip in time, far back in time, where we meet a boy who will help to re-write the story of our human ancestors. The mysterious boy, whose skeleton is the best specimen of Homo Erectus, the species long considered the proverbial missing link between apes and humans, lived more than a million years ago. But in the hands of scientists whose skill is only matched by their curiosity, his bones talk to us today. A highly readable account which shows how paleoanthropologists, in work both painstaking and exciting, reach conclusions about the day-to-day life of the ancestors of modern man.

From the Inside Flap:

"Fascinating. . . . As engaging an explanation of how scientists study fossil bones as any I have ever read." --John R. Alden, Philadelphia Inquirer
In 1984 a team of paleoanthropologists on a dig in northern Kenya found something extraordinary: a nearly complete skeleton of Homo erectus, a creature that lived 1.5 million years ago and is widely thought to be the missing link between apes and humans. The remains belonged to a tall, rangy adolescent male. The researchers called him "Nariokotome boy."
In this immensely lively book, Alan Walker, one of the lead researchers, and his wife and fellow scientist Pat Shipman tell the story of that epochal find and reveal what it tells us about our earliest ancestors. We learn that Nariokotome boy was a highly social predator who walked upright but lacked the capacity for speech. In leading us to these conclusions, The Wisdom of the Bones also offers an engaging chronicle of the hundred-year-long search for a "missing link," a saga of folly, heroic dedication, and inspired science.
"Brilliantly captures [an] intellectual odyssey. . . . One of the finest examples of a practicing scientist writing for a popular audience."
--Portland Oregonian
"A vivid insider's perspective on the global efforts to document our own ancestry."
--Richard E. Leakey

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Walker, Alan; Shipman, Pat
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