THE NEANDERTALS by Erik Trinkaus

THE NEANDERTALS

Changing the Image of Mankind

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Fine scientific history, as Neandertal specialist Trinkaus (Anthropology/Univ. of New Mexico) and educator Shipman (The Johns Hopkins Univ. School of Medicine) trace our understanding of Neandertals and their role in human evolution. The story (hyperbolized as ``a revolution that would change the world'') begins in August 1856, when a workman uncovers some odd bones in a limestone cave in Germany. Immediately, the importance of the find is recognized: These are human remains of a type hitherto unknown, perhaps unlocking the secrets of our past. For the next century and a half, tempers, reputations, even religious beliefs would rise and fall on the basis of these bones. Trinkaus and Shipman concentrate on the scientific squabbles that ensued; although they personalize key figures (Darwin is nicely described as ``a plodding, uncertain little man who got hold of an idea too big for him''), the emphasis is on how research into Neandertal played a part in resolving the puzzles of evolution. The book doubles as a history of evolutionary science, with ample coverage devoted to the Wallace-Darwin priority issue, the Wilberforce-Huxley debates, and many other episodes irrelevant to Neandertal in the narrow sense. Trinkaus and Shipman don't scrimp, however, when it comes to Neandertal: This is a complex, thorough history, covering everything from the ``deluxe, special-edition'' Piltdown Man hoax to the watershed 1939 Monte Circeo find that transformed Neandertal's image from subhuman brute to sensitive, religious being. Often, such turnabouts were governed by national rivalries or personal jealousies; a persistent subtext here is the social basis of scientific argument. How do things stand now for our beetle-browed relatives? On the issue of relation to Homo sapiens, the authors find that Neandertals are ``delimited biologically as a distinct group of humans''; they also aver, on admittedly sketchy evidence, that Neandertal had the same ``behavioral capabilities'' as modern folk. Easily the best book on the subject. (Seventy-five illustrations--five seen.)

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1993
ISBN: 0-394-58900-9
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1992




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