LUCY'S CHILD: The Discovery of a Human Ancestor by Donald & James Shreeve Johanson
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LUCY'S CHILD: The Discovery of a Human Ancestor

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Another chapter, and a very personal one, in the ongoing search for human origins. Johanson, famous for the Lacy find (Lucy, 1981)--which he and colleague Tim White dubbed Australopithecus afarensus to the everlasting rancor of Mary and Richard Leakey --has scored again, this time in the Leakeys' own backyard. Now directing the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley, Johanson describes the depressing effects of his early celebrity--too many tours and lectures, too much fund-raising and administration. No real getting on with the job of paleoanthropology. . .until a staffer reported that the Tanzanian government would allow digging at Olduvai. (Mary Leakey has retired.) Private funds were found and a team of 14 descended on the famous gorge. There, after only three days, Tim White spotted a hominid elbow bone at what came to be known as ""Dik-dik hill""--a collective latrine for the little antelopes. There followed the backbreaking work that filled the rest of the season, resulting in 300 small bone fragments that the group decided were not australopithecine but hominid--part of one of the Homo habilis species that Louis Leakey himself had named. This one was female, built a lot like Lucy (only three feet tall), but much brainier and two million years old. So much for the scoffers who said Olduvai would yield no more treasures. But it was not the end of the controversy. Johanson details the past and current state of lumping and splitting; reviews disputes between the Leakeys and those who regard humans as newcomers; and, in a final section, casts the behavioral arguments on human origins in their cultural context. All that is fine, but the real charm of the book is in the telling. Johanson and science writer Shreeve provide a you-are-there freshness and zest that accentuate the excitement and romance of fossil hunting at its best.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1989
Publisher: Morrow