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Paleoanthropology
Hominid_skulls (15K)

Three skulls from various fossil hominids.

The field of anthropology covers studies of human evolution and modern human societies. The field of hominid evolution, or how humans evolved from apes, is often referred to specifically as paleoanthropology. That's the area I'm most interested in, so that's what most of my anthropology books are actually about. This page lists some of my books on paleoanthropology.

The Leakey Clan

it's hard to think of paleoanthro without thinking of the name "Leakey." The Leakey fossil-hunting clan (Louis Leakey, his second wife Mary, their son Richard, and Richard's wife Meave) are among the most famous anthropologists in the world, because between them they've made an enormous number of discoveries in paleoanthropology. Louis Leakey's finds include the hominids Australopithecus boisei and Homo habilis. Mary Leakey's list includes the Laetoli footprints, the oldest known hominid footprints, probably left by Australopithecus afarensis, plus the primitive hominid Australopithecus anamensis. Richard and his Hominid Gang found the skull KNM ER-1470 (Homo rudolfensis) and the almost complete Homo erectus skeleton called the Nariokotome Boy, among many others.

Richard Leakey numbered writing among his talents, and has a number of decent books to his credit. I've accumulated a number of books by or about him and the r

  • HOMINID GANG, THE
    Author: Willis, Delta
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: Viking Penguin
    ISBN: 0-670-82808-4
    The story of the "Hominid Gang," the team of expert local fossil-hunters that Richard Leakey assembled for his work around Lake Turkana in the 1980s. The Hominid Gang included some of the best fossil-hunters alive, and discovered dozens of valuable hominid fossils.
  • MAKING OF MANKIND, THE
    Author: Leakey, Richard
    Copyright:1981
    Publisher: Abacus
    ISBN: 0-349-12169-9
    Companion volume to NOVA episode of same name. A look at Richard Leakey's ideas on human evolution as of 1980. This book covers the entirety of human evolution, from the first man-apes to Cro-magnon cavemen and the beginnings of civilization. Long since outdated, but valuable as a "history of science" book.
  • ORIGIN OF HUMANKIND, THE
    Author: Leakey, Richard
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: BasicBooks
    ISBN: 0-465-03135-8
    Richard Leakey's ideas on human evolution circa 1994.
  • ORIGINS
    Author: Leakey, Richard
    Copyright:1977
    Publisher: Rainbird Publishing
    ISBN: 0-525-17194-0
    Richard Leakey's survey of what was current thought and knowledge on human evolution in 1977, using all information known at that time. This book is fascinating not because it's up-to-date (it isn't) or because Leakey got everything right (he didn't), but because it gives an excellent look at some of the controversies that were going on in paleoanthropology at that time.
  • ORIGINS RECONSIDERED
    Author: Leakey, Richard
    Copyright:1992
    Publisher: Doubleday & Co.
    ISBN: 0-385-46792-3
    Revision of Leakey and Lewin's 1977 book ORIGINS, taking into account the findings made by Leakey and others during the 1980s.
  • PEOPLE OF THE LAKE
    Author: Leakey, Richard
    Copyright:1978
    Publisher: Avon/Discus
    ISBN: 0-380-45575-7
    Another book Richard Leakey wrote around 1977, giving some of his ideas on human evolution as of that time.

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Lucy's Finder: Don Johanson

Almost as well known as the Leakeys is Don Johanson, who was the first paleoanthropologist to explore the badlands of the Afar region of Ethiopia. There he found an array of fossils from the species Australopithecus afarensis, including the 40% complete skeleton called "Lucy." Johanson is also a good writer, and has written several interesting and valuable books.

  • FROM LUCY TO LANGUAGE
    Author: Johanson & Edgar
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: Simon & Schuster
    ISBN: 0-684-81023-9
    A comprehensive look at every significant human and hominid fossil found by anthropologists up to late 1995. Arranged by age of fossils, not date of discovery. This book contains at least one photograph of every specimen discussed, and since it's a large "coffee-table book," many of the photographs are half-scale or full-scale. If you're looking for a good introduction to paleoanthropology and can only manage one book, this is the one to get.
  • LUCY'S CHILD: THE DISCOVERY OF A HUMAN ANCESTOR
    Author: Don Johanson & James Shreeve
    Copyright:1989
    Publisher: Early Man Publishing
    ISBN: 0-688-06492-2
    A follow-up to Johanson's first book LUCY: THE BEGINNINGS OF HUMANKIND, this is an overview of paleoanthropology as of 1985, mixed with an account of the recovery of hominid fossil OH-62, classified as "Homo habilis," at Olduvai Gorge in 1986. As with LUCY, this book is well written and absorbing, and presents a personal, inside look at the controversies in paleoanthropology. OH-62 was not a particularly well-preserved fossil, and the story of how Johanson's team methodically recovered it bit by bit is absorbing.
  • LUCY: THE BEGINNINGS OF HUMANKIND
    Author: Don Johanson & Maitland Edey
    Copyright:1981
    Publisher: Touchstone
    ISBN: 0-671-72499-1
    This is a detailed account of Don Johanson's hominid discoveries in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 1973-76, plus a review of the state of knowledge in paleoanthropology both before and after he made his finds. I don't know who actually wrote most of the book, Johanson or Edey, but whichever it was, he did a good job. The material really comes alive: the fossils themselves, the competing interpretations, the controversies, and the feel of fieldwork.

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The Piltdown Man Fraud

Among other things, paleoanthropology is notorious for the only major paleontological hoax of the twentieth century: the Piltdown Man case. A number of books have been written on Piltdown. I have two of them.

  • PILTDOWN FORGERY, THE
    Author: Weiner, J. S.
    Copyright:1980
    Publisher: Dover Books
    ISBN: 0-486-24075-4
    This is a 1980 update of a book first published in 1953, the year the Piltdown hoax was exposed. Paleoanthropologist Joseph Weiner of Oxford University played a critical role in that exposure. After the Museum had published a formal pamphlet about the hoax, Weiner wrote his own book, this book, about the fraud and how it was exposed.
  • UNRAVELING PILTDOWN
    Author: Walsh, John Evangelist
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: Random House
    ISBN: 0-679-44444-0
    The most recent revisit of the Piltdown case. In writing his book, Walsh was determined to cut through all the speculation and accumulated confusion, and present a detailed, factual account of the fraud, its exposure, the suspects for whodunit, who probably didn't do it, and who most likely did do it. Very thorough, very well written, very convincing..

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General paleoanthropology

The rest of my paleoanthropology books are a rather miscellaneous collection of older books which show how our knowledge of human evolution developed over time, and recent books that show where paleoanthro is right now... or at least where it was when these books were written. Paleoanthro is a fast-moving field that sees new discoveries almost every year, and books about it often seem to get outdated almost as fast as they're written.

  • ANCESTORS: IN SEARCH OF HUMAN ORIGINS
    Author: Johanson, Donald
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: Villard Books
    ISBN: 0-679-42060-6
    General review of anthropology as of 1993 or so. Produced as a companion to the NOVA series ANCESTORS. Somewhat handicapped by its lack of an index, but pretty good nonetheless.
  • ATLAS OF PRIMITIVE MAN IN CHINA
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1980
    Publisher: Van Nostrand Reinhold
    ISBN: 0-442-20013-7
    A survey of paleoanthropological discoveries and sites in China
  • FOSSIL EVIDENCE FOR HUMAN EVOLUTION, THE
    Author: W. E. Le Gros Clark
    Copyright:1955
    Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press
    ISBN:
    A detailed look at the evidence for human evolution as of the early 1950s. I found this of interest mainly for historical value, a look at the state of paleoanthropology as of the early 1950s. So much has been discovered since then that many of Le Gros Clark's ideas and conclusions are long since obsolete.
  • FOSSIL TRAIL, THE
    Author: Tattersall, Ian
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-19-506101-2
    An overview of all finds made in anthropology since the first Neanderthal man, arranged in order by discovery date. Ian Tattersall is the head of the Anthropology Department at the American Museum of Natural History, and knows this material as well as anyone. His writing style is somewhat dry, and not nearly as good as either Richard Leakey or Don Johanson. I wouldn't recommend this for someone who isn't seriously interested in the subject.
  • HUMAN ANCESTORS: Readings from Scientific American
    Author: Various
    Copyright:1979
    Publisher: W.H. Freeman
    ISBN: 0-7167-1101-X
    A collection of papers from Scientific American on hominids found prior to 1979.
  • HUMAN VARIATION AND ORIGINS
    Author: Laughlin & Osborne
    Copyright:1967
    Publisher: WH Freeman & Co.
    ISBN: 0-7167-0968-6
    A collection of articles from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN dealing with evolution and variation in Homo sapiens.
  • MANKIND IN THE MAKING: THE STORY OF HUMAN EVOLUTION
    Author: Howells, William
    Copyright:1967
    Publisher: Doubleday & Co.
    ISBN:
    An examination of what was known, suspected, and hypothesized about human evolution as of 1967.
  • NEANDERTAL ENIGMA, THE
    Author: Shreeve, James
    Copyright:1995
    Publisher: Avon
    ISBN: 0-380-72881-8
    An in-depth look at the evolution of modern Homo sapiens from Homo erectus, and how Neandertal Man fits into the picture. The "enigma" of the title is twofold: one, how Neandertal Man can look like an ancestor and not an ancestor at the same time; two, how different scientists disagree over how modern man evolved and from what older hominid species. This book does for recent hominids what Johanson's books do for older hominids.
  • OUR EARLIEST ANCESTORS
    Author: Kurten, Bjorn
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press
    ISBN: 0-231-08061-1
    Bjorn Kurten was a Swedish paleontologist who wrote a number of books in his native language which were later translated to English. This one is a review of Kurten's ideas on human evolution. Though the English translation is copyrighted 1993, the original material was written around 1985 or 1986, and contains nothing newer than that.
  • PEKING MAN
    Author: Shapiro, Harry L.
    Copyright:1974
    Publisher: Touchstone
    ISBN: 0-671-22216-3
    Harry Shapiro's exploration of the greatest fossil mystery of the 20th century: the disappearance of the original Peking Man fossils in 1939.
  • WISDOM OF THE BONES, THE: In Search of Human Origins
    Author: Alan Walker & Pat Shipman
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: Borzoi Books
    ISBN: 0-679-42624-8
    A very detailed and thorough examination of the critically important hominid fossil known as the Nariokotome Boy or the Turkana Boy: a juvenile Homo erectus male found west of Lake Turkana in Africa in the late 1980s.

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Modern anthropology

Modern anthropology is the study of modern humans and modern human societies. The study of individual humans can be useful in many ways, not least of which is forensics. The study of modern human societies can also be very useful, both in learning how we got where we are and reminding ourselves that "primitive" does not equate to "stupid."

  • GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL: THE FATES OF HUMAN SOCIETIES
    Author: Diamond, Jared
    Copyright:1997
    Publisher: W. W. Norton
    ISBN: 0-393-03891-2
    An award-winning look at the development of human civilization, and why the European peoples became world-conquerors while no others did. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Diamond writes with extreme skill and care, and leaves few holes in his arguments.
  • MISMEASURE OF MAN, THE
    Author: Gould, Stephen Jay
    Copyright:1981
    Publisher: W. W. Norton
    ISBN: 0-393-31067-1
    Stephen Jay Gould was one of the better "science for the layman" writers of the last fifty years. Unfortunately, this book was not one of his better efforts. He was trying to look at the history of racism in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the many flawed attempts to use science to support that racism. Sadly, in the process he seems to have let his own prejudices get the better of him, and condemned some experiments and claims that apparently had at least some validity.
  • MISMEASURE OF MAN, THE (Revised Ed.)
    Author: Gould, Stephen Jay
    Copyright:1996
    Publisher: W. W. Norton
    ISBN: 0-393-31425-1
    A revised and updated version of Gould's study on science-based racism. The revisions include a chapter specifically written as a counter to the very controversial book THE BELL CURVE. Unfortunately, it still suffers from some of the same flaws as the first edition.
  • ROAD BELONG CARGO
    Author: Lawrence, Peter
    Copyright:1971
    Publisher: Waveland Press
    ISBN: 0-88133-458-8
    A professional, thorough, journal-quality study of the strange phenomenon of "cargo cults" in Papua New Guinea. Cargo cults are one of several attempts by Papuans to obtain for themselves some of the manufactured goods and materials that Europeans possess. Cargo cultists attempted to obtain these manufactured goods ("cargo") for themselves by imitating what they thought were Europeans' magic rituals.

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