MISSING LINKS: The Hunt for Earliest Man by John Reader

MISSING LINKS: The Hunt for Earliest Man

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John Reader's even-handed account of fossil hunters past and present is graced by his excellent color photos of the sites and the findings themselves. Beginning with the accidental discoveries at the Neander Valley a century ago, photojournalist Reader chronicles the controversies surrounding Eugene Dubois (Java man), the Piltdown hoax, Raymond Dart (Australopithecus africanus), the Chinese excursions that led to Peking man--and, finally, back in Africa, the doings of Robert Broom and the Leakeys, and the Afar findings that have brought world fame to Donald Johanson and ""Lucy."" While Reader presents biographical snippets (Robert Broom liked to take off his clothes while excavating; Mary Leakey had an unconventional childhood touring Europe with her landscape-painter father), he is principally concerned with presenting a scholarly summary of where we stand today in regard to human origins. Thus the book provides a friendly, uncontentious perspective (no accusations; not even Piltdown villains) from which to view the current rivalries: Johnason et al. who claim that Homo is a direct descendant of Australopithecine forebears, versus the Leakeys who stoutly defend the antiquity of Homo and consider Australopithecines a long extinct side-branch. It is, of course, of no mean interest scientifically that the same fossil findings support these opposing views. A concluding chapter provides an interesting ""footnote"": the discovery of ancient footprints by Mary Leakey's group at Laetoli, along with the evidence that Johanson's Lucy was fully bipedal, are strong proof that upright posture predated brain growth. In fact, our ancestors were probably better walkers than we are, biomechanically speaking; because the pelvis had to expand to accommodate an enlarging brain, Homo sapiens today is subject to greater spinal strains and instabilities. Recommended reading--and looking--even if you've already finished Lucy.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown