"This book follows the endeavours of scientists striving to uncover the mysteries of human origins over the past 100 years...
The first part of this book focuses upon the exploits of key field scientists, starting with the pioneer researchers of the early twentieth century. Their task was not only to find significant fossils--the principal evidence of human evolution--but to convince a sceptical scientific establishment of the importance of their discoveries. Some fossil finds remained in dispute for years. Modern researchers pushing back the frontier of human origins to 7 million years ago have encountered similar hurdles.
The second part of [this] book opens at that primordial frontier and moves forward along the trail of discoveries leading to the emergence of our own species, Homo sapiens, and its gradual migration around the world."
The above comes from this slim, informative book by Martin Meredith. Meredith is a journalist, biographer, historian, and author. He has written extensively on Africa and its recent history.
The pioneer scientists striving to uncover the mystery of human origins, known as the science of palaeoanthropology, were mainly anthropologists and archaeologists. Today we have a many other scientists involved in this science such as molecular biologists, biochemists, geneticists, palaeoclimatologists, geochronologists, and palaeontologists (scientist who studies fossils and the biology of extinct organisms).
(More precisely, palaeoanthropology is the "study of the physical and behavioural aspects of humans in prehistory.")
The key indicators of humankind's ancient ancestors are fossils. Fossils are "the remains or impression of a prehistoric plant or animal that has become hardened into rock." The goal of past field researchers was to find the oldest human ancestor. Today this goal has broadened to include the search for the origins of modern humans as well as human ancestors.
Meredith in his book tells us about the history of the discovery of fossils. We get to follow the significant field researchers and scientists who have made these discoveries.
As you probably can imagine, telling a story like this can be quite involved, even tedious. This is what makes Meredith's book a joy to read: his book is never tedious. He cuts out extraneous detail.
All the material in this book about the exploits of key field researchers was certainly interesting. But what I found especially interesting were the personal feuds, intense disputes and rivalries, and on-going controversies involved in the science of palaeoanthropology. For example, Meredith tells us:
"A Rift Valley conference in London in 1975 was marred by scientists shouting at each other."
You will learn much after reading this book. But there is one undeniable conclusion:
"We have all inherited an African past."
The cover of this book (displayed above by Amazon) shows an area called Olduvai Gorge in East Africa. It is sometimes called "the Cradle of Mankind."
Meredith tells his readers about the sources of his book:
"The material for this book is based largely on the work, writings, and reminiscences of several generations of scientists."
Finally, there are over forty black and white pictures found in this book, divided into two groups. My favourite, found in the second group, has the caption:
"A reconstruction of the skeleton of Lucy--Australopithecus afarensis--discovered in Hadar, Ethiopia, in 1974."
In conclusion, this is a valuable book that gives a good, non-detailed account of the exploits of anthropologists, archaeologists, and other scientists attempting to uncover the mysteries of human origins over the past century!!
(first published 2011; map of Southern Africa; map of Africa; map of Eastern Africa: The Great Rift Valley; preface; introduction; 2 parts or 18 chapters; main narrative 195 pages; glossary; notes on sources; selected bibliography; index; about the author)
<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>