n his New York Times bestseller, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind, renowned paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson told the incredible story of his discovery of a partial female skeleton that revolutionized the study of human origins. Lucy literally changed our understanding of our world and who we come from. Since that dramatic find in 1974, there has been heated debate and–most important–more groundbreaking discoveries that have further transformed our understanding of when and how humans evolved. In Lucy’s Legacy, Johanson takes readers on a fascinating tour of the last three decades of study–the most exciting period of paleoanthropologic investigation thus far. In that time, Johanson and his colleagues have uncovered a total of 363 specimens of Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy’s species, a transitional creature between apes and humans), spanning 400,000 years. As a result, we now have a unique fossil record of one branch of our family tree–that family being humanity–a tree that is believed to date back a staggering 7 million years. [more inside]
Humans and their immediate ancestors were successful hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but in the last fifteen thousand years humans have gone from finding food to farming it, from seasonal camps to sprawling cities, from a few people to hordes. Drawing on her own fieldwork in the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and beyond, archeologist Brenna Hassett explores the long history of urbanization through revolutionary changes written into the bones of the people who lived it. For every major new lifestyle, another way of dying appeared. From the "cradle of civilization" in the ancient Near East to the dawn of agriculture on the American plains, skeletal remains and fossils show evidence of shorter lives, rotten teeth, and growth interrupted. The scarring on human skeletons reveals that getting too close to animals had some terrible consequences, but so did getting too close to too many other people. Each chapter of Built on Bones moves forward in time, discussing in depth humanity's great urban experiment. Hassett explains the diseases, plagues, epidemics, and physical dangers we have unwittingly unleashed upon ourselves throughout the urban past--and, as the world becomes increasingly urbanized, what the future holds for us. In a time when "Paleo" lifestyles are trendy and so many of us feel the pain of the city daily grind, this book asks the critical question: Was it worth it?
n his new book The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack, human paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall argues that a long tradition of "human exceptionalism" in paleoanthropology has distorted the picture of human evolution. Drawing partly on his own career—from young scientist in awe of his elders to crotchety elder statesman—Tattersall offers an idiosyncratic look at the competitive world of paleoanthropology, beginning with Charles Darwin 150 years ago, and continuing through the Leakey dynasty in Africa, and concluding with the latest astonishing findings in the Caucasus. [more inside]