Synopses & Reviews
Two discoveries of early human relatives, one in 1924 and one in 2003, radically changed scientific thinking about our origins. Dean Falk, a pioneer in the field of human brain evolution, offers this fast-paced insiderand#8217;s account of these discoveries, the behind-the-scenes politics embroiling the scientists who found and analyzed them, and the academic and religious controversies they generated. The first is the Taung child, a two-million-year-old skull from South Africa that led anatomist Raymond Dart to argue that this creature had walked upright and that Africa held the key to the fossil ancestry of our species. The second find consisted of the partial skeleton of a three-and-a-half-foot-tall woman, nicknamed Hobbit, from Flores Island, Indonesia. She is thought by scientists to belong to a new, recently extinct species of human, but her story is still unfolding. Falk, who has studied the brain casts of both Taung and Hobbit, reveals new evidence crucial to interpreting both discoveries and proposes surprising connections between this pair of extraordinary specimens.
"Falk, an anthropologist with the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, N.M., explores two key discoveries and the fallout they caused among paleoanthropologists regarding their significance for human evolution: the Taung child in South Africa in 1924 and the skeleton nicknamed Hobbit, found on Flores Island, Indonesia, in 2004. The author, closely involved with the latter discovery, vividly captures the excitement of uncovering new knowledge and the passion scientists bring to their work, placing each find in the broader context of its day (doubts about Taung, for instance, followed from the 1912 Pilodown Man hoax), and examining what each find teaches us about ourselves and where we come from. Falk's tone is conversational regarding Hobbit, she quotes from her diary, 'Yippee Skippee... She ain't a microcephalic!' but frequently gives way to dense passages of data. The book is most enlightening in its treatment of the personal politics and rivalries that accompany the scientific process, the internecine quarrels over the specifics of evolution even among scientists who agree on the theory's broad outlines, and how 'scientists... can be as emotionally invested in their explanations of human origins as religious fundamentalists are in theirs. After all, the topic literally entails matters of life and death.' 30 illus. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Brilliant. . . . Sparkles with scholarship and wit.” Nature
and#8220;The book is part historical drama, part neurological crash course and part autobiography . . . . The combination is refreshing.and#8221;
and#8220;Infectious. . . . This book provides a powerful reminder that fossils should hold value to those beyond sometimes argumentative paleoanthropologists.and#8221;
"Engaging and compelling. . . . Effective and affecting."
and#8220;Brilliant. . . . Sparkles with scholarship and wit.and#8221;
"With wit and authority, Falk tells the parallel stories of two fossil discoveries that surprised the world, revealing the larger significance of these finds. Her lively recounting combines new historical research with her first-hand involvement in controversial interpretations."and#151;Pat Shipman, author of The Animal Connection
and The Man Who Found the Missing Link
and#147;An absorbing and engagingly personal account, by a leading participant, of two of the major and#147;brain warsand#8221; that have raged along the path to our current understanding of human evolution.and#8221;--Ian Tattersall, author of The Fossil Trail and Human Origins
and#147;In The Fossil Chronicles, Falk engages us with a and#145;tale of two brainsand#8217;. While navigating the surfaces of these ancient brains, she reveals the convolutions of scientific controversies and how personalities and paleopolitics shape the ways we think about human evolution.and#8221;and#151;Nina G. Jablonski, author of Skin: A Natural History
About the Author
is a Senior Scholar at the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her previous books include Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origin of Language
and Braindance, Revised and Expanded Edition: New Discoveries about Human Origins and Brain Evolution
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
1. Of Paleopolitics and Missing Links
2. Taung: A Fossil to Rival Piltdown
3. Taungand#8217;s Checkered Past
4. Sulcal Skirmishes
5. Once upon a Hobbit
6. Floand#8217;s Little Brain
7. Sick Hobbits, Quarrelsome Scientists
8. Whence Homo floresiensis?
9. Bones to Pick