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review 2020-02-05 08:21
The Neanderthals Rediscovered by Dimitra Papagianni & Michael A. Morse
The Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science Is Rewriting Their Story - Dimitra Papagianni,Michael A. Morse

TITLE:   The Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science is Rewriting Their Story

 

AUTHORS:  Dimitra Papagianni & Michael A. Morse

 

DATE PUBLISHED: 2015 [Revised and updated edition]

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9780500292044

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DESCRIPTION:

 

"In recent years, the common perception of the Neanderthals has been transformed, thanks to new discoveries and paradigm-shattering scientific innovations. It turns out that the Neanderthals’ behavior was surprisingly modern: they buried the dead, cared for the sick, hunted large animals in their prime, harvested seafood, and communicated with spoken language. Meanwhile, advances in DNA technologies are compelling us to reassess the Neanderthals’ place in our own past.

For hundreds of thousands of years, Neanderthals evolved in Europe parallel to Homo sapiens evolving in Africa, and, when both species made their first forays into Asia, the Neanderthals may even have had the upper hand. In this important volume, Dimitra Papagianni and Michael A. Morse compile the first full chronological narrative of the Neanderthals’ dramatic existence—from their evolution in Europe to their expansion to Siberia, their subsequent extinction, and ultimately their revival in popular novels, cartoons, cult movies, and television commercials.
"

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REVIEW:

 

This might be a (mostly) up to date book about neanderthals, but it focuses on the archaeological record (bones, sites, stone tools, dating of everything vaguely hominid) and relegates all the interesting stuff about Neanderthals (their life-style, diet, burial rituals, social interactions, technology, use of fire, clothing, anything related to DNA) to one superficial chapter at the end of the book.  Half the book focuses on the parallel evolution of homo sapiens and neanderthals, issues with fossil sites and dating, and telling the reader who dug up what and what they and everyone else thought about it.  While the book covers a variety of hypotheses about neanderthals and why they went extinct, it also leaves out the more interesting hypotheses (e.g. diseases, humans with hunting dogs).  The writing was dull and plodding,  a bit disorganized and too repetitive.    I didn't learn anything new about neanderthals that I hadn't already picked up from a variety of random internet articles.  In short, if you want to know about neanderthals, read the Wikipedia article and skip this book. 

 

 

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review 2020-01-27 11:26
Man the Hunted by Donna Hart &Robert W. Sussman
Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution, Expanded Edition - Robert W. Sussman,Donna Hart,Ian Tattersall

TITLE:  Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution

 

AUTHOR:  Donna Hart, Robert W. Sussman

 

PUBLICATION DATE:  2008 (Expanded Edition)

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9780813344034

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DESCRIPTION:

 

"Man the Hunted argues that primates, including the earliest members of the human family, have evolved as the prey of any number of predators, including wild cats and dogs, hyenas, snakes, crocodiles, and even birds. The authors’ studies of predators on monkeys and apes are supplemented here with the observations of naturalists in the field and revealing interpretations of the fossil record. Eyewitness accounts of the “man the hunted” drama being played out even now give vivid evidence of its prehistoric significance.This provocative view of human evolution suggests that countless adaptations that have allowed our species to survive—from larger brains to speech—stem from a considerably more vulnerable position on the food chain than we might like to imagine. The myth of early humans as fearless hunters dominating the earth obscures our origins as just one of many species that had to be cautious, depend on other group members, communicate danger, and come to terms with being merely one cog in the complex cycle of life.

The expanded edition includes a new chapter that describes the ever-increasing evidence of predation on humans and other primates and claims that the earliest humans were neither hunters nor even the accomplished scavengers that many authorities have claimed."

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REVIEW:

 

Man the Hunted is an anthropology book written in a plain and easy to read manner.  The authors make use of the fossil record and studies on modern day primate predation on primates (including humans), to argue that man as prey rather man as predator drove human evolution.  The majority of the book takes a look at the variety of past and present predators that ate/eat primates, including large cats, wolves, hyenas, raptors, snakes, crocodiles etc.  An interesting and informative read.

 

 

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review 2020-01-17 12:22
The Waterside Ape by Peter H. Rhys-Evans
The Waterside Ape: An Alternative Account of Human Evolution - Peter H Rhys Evans

TITLE:   The Waterside Ape: An Alternative Account of Human Evolution

 

AUTHOR:  Peter H. Rhys-Evans

 

DATE PUBLISHED: 2019

 

FORMAT:  Paperback

 

ISBN-13:  9780367145484

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DESCRIPTION:

"Why are humans so fond of water?

Why is our skin colour so variable?

Why aren't we hairy like our close ape relatives?

A savannah scenario of human evolution has been widely accepted primarily due to fossil evidence; and fossils do not offer insight into these questions. Other alternative evolutionary scenarios might, but these models have been rejected. This book explores a controversial idea - that human evolution was intimately associated with watery habitats as much or more than typical savannahs. Written from a medical point of view, the author presents evidence supporting a credible alternative explanation for how humans diverged from our primate ancestors. Anatomical and physiological evidence offer insight into hairlessness, different coloured skin, subcutaneous fat, large brains, a marine-type kidney, a unique heat regulation system and speech. This evidence suggests that humans may well have evolved, not just as savannah mammals, as is generally believed, but with more affinity for aquatic habitats - rivers, streams, lakes and coasts.

Key Features:

Presents the evidence for a close association between riparian habitats and the origin of humans Reviews the "savannah ape" hypothesis for human origins Describes various anatomical adaptations that are associated with hypotheses of human evolution Explores characteristics from the head and neck such as skull and sinus structures, the larynx and ear structures and functions

Corroborates a novel scenario for the origin of human kind

'... a counterpoint to the textbooks or other books which deal with human evolution. I think readers will see it as a clearly written, well-supported discussion of an alternativeperspective on human origins'. --Kathlyn Stewart, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa

'There is a pressing need to expand discussions of human evolution to includenon-anthropocentric narratives that use comparative data. Dr Rhys-Evans' specific expertise and experience with the human head, neck, ears, throat, mouth and sinuses, provides him with a distinct perspective from which to approach the subject of human evolution. Moreover, his understanding of non-anthropocentric views of human evolution (water-based models), allow him to apply a biological approach to the subject, missing in more traditional (savannah-based) models'. --Stephen Munro, National Museum of Australia
".

 

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REVIEW:

 

Rhys-Evans provides an up-to-date account of all the paleontological, environmental and medical evidence for the aquatic ape hypothesis.  The information is interesting, makes use of well-referenced scientific articles, and applies logic where gaps need to be filled in.  A variety of human "attributes" are compared with similar attributes in terrestrial, semi-aquatic and aquatic animals.  Any speculation on the author's part is noted as such.  This is not a popular science book as such, since there are no interviews, anecdotal or fashion commentaries (thank you!).  The information is presented in a straight-forward manner, with the use of the correct technical terms for anatomical organs/structures, which may require some effort on the part of non-medical readers.  Illustrations are provided where relevant. My only issues are with the some-what erratic organization of the sections;  a failure on the author's part to fully explain why something mentioned is relevant (sometimes it is obvious, sometimes not); and the lack of flow and cohesion between sections.  This book really could have used an editor to make the narrative flow more smoothly.  Regardless of its faults, the information contained in this book is fascinating and really should be read by anyone even vaguely interested in human evolution.

 

 

NOTE:  This book has absolutely nothing to do with mermaids.

 

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review 2019-12-02 06:41
Ice Maiden by Johan Reinhard
Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes - Johan Reinhard

TITLE:  Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes

 

AUTHOR:  Johan Reinhard

 

DATE PUBLISHED: 2005

 

FORMAT:  Hardcover

 

ISBN-13:  9780792268383

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DESCRIPTION:

"Half a millennium ago, a party of Inca priests and a young virgin climbed more than 20,000 feet to the summit of the  Andean peaks of Ampato.  At the climax of their ceremony, the girl was sacrificed and buried along with sacred offerings of textiles, food, and figurines of silver and gold; there the Inca Ice Maiden would remain undisturbed for 500 years, until Johan Reinhard found her in 1995.  It was a stunning discovery that made headlines all over the world - but it was just the beginning of this fascinating tale of adventure, high-altitude archaeology, and ground-breaking scientific accomplishment.

 

In his first-hand account, Reinhard, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, chronicles more than two decades of challenging research that led him on over 200 climbs of some fo the world's highest mountains, and culminated in two seasons of unprecedented finds - first the ice maiden on Ampato, and four years later on Llullaillaco, where three Inca children lay frozen in a state of near-perfect preservation.  Dead for centuries yet still alive in their startling humanity, they are mute yet eloquent witnesses to ancient Inca civilization and custom, yielding everything from statuary and ceremonial clothing to DNA samples - each a new piece in the cultural puzzle that is Reinhard's life work.

 

A mesmerizing blend of mountaineering adventure and archaeological quest, The Ice Maiden boasts everything from live volcanoes and deadly lightning storms to grave robbers and fierce academic rivalries that threatened Reinhard's team as they raced time and the weather to compelte their demanding task.  Every reader will feel their tense mix of excitement and anxiety, and share their exhilarioation as they unearth long-buried treasures that exceed even their most hopeful dreams.

 

This extraordinarily vivid eyewitness account documents two of the most important discoveries in the history of South American archaeology.  A riveting tale that takes the long forgotten and makes it unforgettable, it represents at once a momentous scientific achievement and a pricelss contribution to the cultural heritage of the Incas' descendatns in Peru and Argentina."

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REVIEW:

 

This book describes Johan Reinhard's personal experiences in climbing various Andes mountain peaks; leading archaeological expeditions to find Inca mummies and artifacts; all the "fun" interpersonal/ inter-university/ inter-organisational politcs that preserving and studying important archaeological artifacts entails, and the importance of these discoveries (especially when considering looters' habits of theft and dynamite usage).  Reinhard provides the reader with a  fascinating look at how the Ice Maiden (and other ice mummies) were found, the difficulties encountered on expeditions to extreme (and sometimes not so extreme) locations, as well as organising (and finding funding) for special permanent storage containers and facilities for these ice mummies. The author provides a brief description of Inca culture, with an emphasis on their high altitude (as far up the mountain as they could possible go) child sacrifices and their beliefs in Mountain gods.  I found there was a bit too much about the author and not enough about the Incas in general and the finds specifically.  However, this book was well-written with numerous black & white photographs, as well as a section of colour plates. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-07-22 10:45
The Walking Whales by J.G.M. "Hans" Thewissen
The Walking Whales: From Land to Water in Eight Million Years - J. G. M. "Hans" Thewissen

TITLE:  The Walking Whales: From Land to Water in Eight Million Years

 

AUTHOR:  J. G. M. "Hans" Thewissen

 

DATE PUBLISHED:  2014

 
FORMAT:  Hardcover
 

ISBN13:  9780520277069

 
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DESCRIPTION:
"Hans Thewissen, a leading researcher in the field of whale paleontology and anatomy, gives a sweeping first-person account of the discoveries that brought to light the early fossil record of whales. As evidenced in the record, whales evolved from herbivorous forest-dwelling ancestors that resembled tiny deer to carnivorous monsters stalking lakes and rivers and to serpentlike denizens of the coast.

Thewissen reports on his discoveries in the wilds of India and Pakistan, weaving a narrative that reveals the day-to-day adventures of fossil collection, enriching it with local flavors from South Asian culture and society. The reader senses the excitement of the digs as well as the rigors faced by scientific researchers, for whom each new insight gives rise to even more questions, and for whom at times the logistics of just staying alive may trump all science.

In his search for an understanding of how modern whales live their lives, Thewissen also journeys to Japan and Alaska to study whales and wild dolphins. He finds answers to his questions about fossils by studying the anatomy of otters and porpoises and examining whale embryos under the microscope. In the book's final chapter, Thewissen argues for approaching whale evolution with the most powerful tools we have and for combining all the fields of science in pursuit of knowledge.
"
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REVIEW:
 
This is a delightful book:  full colour illustrations, diagrams, maps, beautifully detailed science writing and an author who assumes his readers are intelligent and interested.
 
This book reads something like a detective novel.  The author starts off with one of his (presumably failed) fossil finding expeditions in Pakistan, 1991, what he found there, the implications and what happened next.  Thewissen manages to include biographical "stories" without coming across as self-important (he is humble and rather amusing), and gives credit where credit is due.  All these biographical anecdotes are from his field expeditions and the people he dealt with - essentially where he went, why, what issues he had, what he found and why this was significant - fit into the whole book and the science sections quite well.  These anecdotes were quite interesting and I looked forward to reading them. You get to find out what a paleontologist does when he has made an important fossil discovery but doesn't have enough funds to fly it back the laboratory; and what happens when said paleontologist gets too impatient to dig out a fossil and yanks it out of the ground instead.
 
 
 
Besides the enlightening anecdotes, Thewissen discusses the specifics of whale evolution using fossil, biological (physiologica, cladistic and DNA where possible) and chemical evidence, usually in the order in which the discoveries were made.  All the relevant science from different fields is nicely explained withouth being tedious or overly technical (except the anatomy parts, which can't really be helped). The author is also careful in spearating speculation from what can reasonably be assumed from the evidence.
 
Thewissen has summarised the remarkable progress that has been made in terms of our understanding of whale origins - with many "intermediate" fossils, clear-cut functional links, and the beginnings of the molecuar mechanisms that drive it all.  Thewissen takes the reader on an mystery-solving adventure that eventually helps us understand the evolution of whales from small hooved, land animals that resembled mouse deer and requiring fresh water for drinking, to our current salt-water, fishy-shaped giants with flippers.
 
 
 
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