Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind

Morrow. Nov. 2020. 544p. ISBN 9780062410283. $32.50. SCI
In this debut, journalist Pattison follows the story of abrasive and methodical scientist Tim White’s frequent conflict and occasional collaborations with other paleoanthropolologists as his team search out early hominid fossils in Africa. They discover Ardipithecus ramidus, or Ardi, further upstream in the same Ethiopian valley as the Lucy fossil, but 1.2 million years older, and seek clues to understand where she fits into human ancestry. Besides this central scientific adventure, Pattison, who spent time in the field with White’s team, explores other issues as well: How much training and authority is given to researchers from the countries where our ancient roots reside? How should we esteem the fieldwork to uncover and document the fossils vs. the theoretical and computer-aided approaches used to interpret them? And what duty do paleontologists have to the scientific community to share their finds and when? Additionally, there are the scientific debates on the relationships between the extant modern ape species (humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas) and when and where their lineages diverged; genetic analyses seem to tell one story that must be brought in line with the physical evidence.
VERDICT Compelling science centered on a polarizing personality, this is perfect for National Geographic readers who want to dig deep into the human evolutionary tree.
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