Partial skull of Australopithecus
Today we take for granted that we are the only human species on Earth. Yet over the last 4 million years at least 15 different human species shared the planet. What happened to all these other human species, and what is it about us that we alone survived?
Based on their unprecedented personal examination of virtually every known human fossil in collections around the world, the authors offer a radical reinterpretation of human evolution. Their conclusions are therefore often fresh and surprising. They studied the newest discoveries. Human evolution, say the authors, has long been envisioned as a straight-line progression from bipedal apes to Homo habilis to Homo erectus to Neanderthals to us, Homo sapiens. But this model of a single species at a time is suspiciously unlike the pattern of multiple branchings and extinctions known for all other animals.
Rejecting preconceived models of human evolution, Tattersall and Schwartz look anew to the actually fossils themselves. The story they tell is one of great variation, repeated new species and extinction, experimentation and failure, played out over the millions of years of human history. Human history looks less like a queue than a tree.
Extinct Humans recounts the ongoing vigorous debates over the identity of the earliest of our human ancestors. It considers how our vanished remote ancestors differed from us. Who were our direct ancestors? Which represent ultimate dead branches on our family tree? Perhaps most provocatively, why are we the lone remaining human species?
Jeffrey L. Schwartz is Professor of Physical Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and a Research Assistant at the American Museum of Natural History. He received his degrees from Columbia University and has published extensively on human and developmental biology and the systematics of fossils and living primates. His books include The Red Ape and Skeleton Keys and most recently Sudden Origins. He was principle photographer for Extinct Humans.
Tattersall and Schwartz have traveled
around the globe to examine essentially every known hominid fossil. Their
study of the anatomy has led them to the following conclusion. The pattern
of evolution in our own species is no different from that of the rest
of the earth's fauna: repeated evolutionary experimentation, diversification
and, ultimately, extinction. This reasoning may seem only commonsensical
to those unfamiliar with the more usual picture that paleoanthropologists
sketch of a rather linear development—a single-minded struggle,
as the authors put it, from bestial benightedness to uplifted enlightenment.
They develop their theme with great style (and great photographs) and
conclude by suggesting what accounts for H. sapiens' being the
lone hominid on the earth today. We won't spoil the fascinating read by
divulging what they (very convincingly) propose. The book is an intellectual
adventure that would be well worth undertaking for this intriguing denouement
alone, but there are in addition a wealth of informative stops en route.
No longer can human evolution be viewed
as a simple progression of a single lineage from a primitive ancestor
to ourselves. Research over the last half century has revealed a plethora
of species and raised provocative questions about our past. This absorbing,
comprehensive and authoritative narrative, based on the authors' own first
hand experience of the original fossils, is a must for anyone with an
interest in our origins. -
"As two of the world's most preeminent
anthropologists, Tattersall and Schwartz know the fossil record first-hand."
Skull of early modern human
A provocative look into evolution and
the emergence of H. sapiens as the lone remaining human species on Earth,
Extinct Humans is a valuable resource for laypersons and
professionals interested in learning about the origins of man.
In this fantastic book we learn the where,
when, and why so many other human species have disappeared and only we
have fortunately survived until now.
With its outstanding illustrations and
levelheaded treatment of empirical data, this impressive and indispensabvble
book is a very important contribution to modern paleoanthropology.
Tattersall and Schwartz have produced
a masterpiece that combines historical thought processes on man's place
in nature and prehistoric fossil reality in a highly entertaining and
informative style. This is not just another book on fossil man but a challenge
to those lumpers who would confine our ancestors to a paltry
few species. The authors have traveled world-wide to examine the fossils
they discuss and have written an inspired and thought-provoking book.
Paleoanthropologists Tattersall and Schwartz
offer a provocative
survey of the fossil evidence for human evolution,
based on direct study of a great proportion of the original material,
a task that few paleoanthropologists can claim to have undertaken.
[An] attractively produced introduction
to the vexed world of early hominids.
A superior overview, a profitable addition
to any library.
...[I] shall continually go back to [Extinct
Humans] with profit.
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