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This is a whopper of a good book, really several books in one. Pfeiffer, always a careful writer and researcher, has turned his attention to prehistory and given a detailed summary of past and present discoveries of prosimians, hominids, homo erectus, and homo sapiens. More than this he's dug with the experts and combines the styles of the succinct reporter with the participator. For the first time you may learn that exploring caves for drawings means crawling on your belly through ""torpedo tube"" spaces, or lowering yourself into pits taking you deeper and darker than you might care to go. At the same time this raises the question of what possible meaning in rite or ritual such inaccessible art might have served. Then, having summarized the newer theories about man's rise to civilization (from small- to big-game hunting; from forest to savannah), he describes contemporary studies of higher primates in nature and of the few fast-vanishing stone age cultures: aborigines and bushmen. Chapters on experimental archaeology deal with a new do-it-yourself aspect in which scientists have attempted to fashion stone age tools and immerse themselves in a prehistoric style of life. One delightful anecdote involved skinning a bear with obsidian tools: the job took considerably less time than it might have with a fine-tempered steel blade. The final chapters compare man's historical development with infant behavior, the emergence of language, and the role of play and art as sources of novelty. Here the terrain is thick with theory, highly debatable, but fun. An epilogue considers man's future and plausibly constructs the next computer phase of culture.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1969
Publisher: Harper & Row