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Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth [Hardcover]

Chris Stringer
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

March 13 2012 0805088911 978-0805088915

A leading researcher on human evolution proposes a new and controversial theory of how our species came to be

In this groundbreaking and engaging work of science, world-renowned paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer sets out a new theory of humanity's origin, challenging both the multiregionalists (who hold that modern humans developed from ancient ancestors in different parts of the world) and his own "out of Africa" theory, which maintains that humans emerged rapidly in one small part of Africa and then spread to replace all other humans within and outside the continent. Stringer's new theory, based on archeological and genetic evidence, holds that distinct humans coexisted and competed across the African continent—exchanging genes, tools, and behavioral strategies.

Stringer draws on analyses of old and new fossils from around the world, DNA studies of Neanderthals (using the full genome map) and other species, and recent archeological digs to unveil his new theory. He shows how the most sensational recent fossil findings fit with his model, and he questions previous concepts (including his own) of modernity and how it evolved.

Lone Survivors will be the definitive account of who and what we were, and will change perceptions about our origins and about what it means to be human.

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"If you want an engaging read about the Out of Africa theory for modern humans, Lone Survivors by paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer is for you. Stringer's stimulating writing will carry you from the beginning to the end of this important book."
—Don Johanson, Founding Director, Institute of Human Origins Arizona State University

"Lone Survivors is a magnificent achievement: rich, informative, and comprehensive. Simply the best book on current state-of-the-art human evolutionary studies I have read. I recommend it as the first step for anyone entering this field--and for those who have already taken their first steps, it provides the overview we would all like to have. The book makes a messy field neat and much easier to navigate in. Bravo!"
—Peter C. Kjaergaard, Professor and Director of Interdisciplinary Evolutionary Studies, Aarhus University, Denmark

"Stringer points out that most scientists agree that our first hominid ancestors appeared in Africa 5 million years ago; many species evolved, and a few wandered north about 2 million years ago. Where Homo sapiens originated and how it came out on top remains a matter of intense debate, but Stringer marshals the latest evidence and concludes that his own opinion is correct: Modern humans appeared in a small area of Africa about 200,000 years ago and then moved across the world exchanging genes, tools and behavior with rival human species before supplanting them. Besides trying to make sense of headline-producing fossil and archeological discoveries, the author explains dazzling advances that have solved many problems: precise techniques for dating, DNA studies, isotope analysis to determine an ancient species' diet and travels, CT scans to reveal hidden and even microscopic details and geometric morphometrics and stereolithography to re-create, manipulate and compare skulls and other structures."—Kirkus

"Famed paleoanthropologist Stringer once challenged multiregionalists (who argue that modern humans developed from ancient ancestors in different parts of the world) by proposing that humans emerged rapidly in one part of Africa and then went forth to replace all other hominid species. Now he challenges himself, using new evidence to proclaim that distinct humans coexisted, competed, and even interbred throughout the African continent. "—Library Journal

"Stringer explores  . . . the major trends in human evolutionary theory since Darwin’s time, following the pendulum of scientific opinion as it swings from multiregionalism—the idea that humans evolved through various phases around the globe, with no place serving as a particular origin—to recent African origin theory, and back. Though a prominent out of Africa proponent, Stringer refines his earlier ideas, still focusing on an African beginning, but investigating the possibility that humans interbred with Neanderthals and other ancient humans. The book digs into fossil finds, advanced dating methods, and genetic tools, and shows how experts can deduce so much about our millennia-dead ancestors."—Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Chris Stringer is the author of The Complete World of Human Evolution, Homo britannicus, and more than two hundred books and papers on the subject of human evolution. One of the world's foremost paleoanthropologists, he is a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He has three children and lives in Sussex and London.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, but not quite perfect June 3 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a classic 4.5 star book. It is a documentation of the evidence that we have for human origins, focusing primarily on the Homo line (versus older ancestors). The author is in a good position to guide the reader through this, having been (and still is) an active researcher in the origins of humans. As a paleoanthropologist/archaeologist, the author describes both the history of the finds as well as the finds themselves. What starts out as a confused picture becomes slightly clearer as the author builds support for a theory he helped champion- Recent Out of Africa (ROA). ROA emerged from a highly charged field full of debate as the most likely model towards the end of the 90s, early 2000s. However, the picture is recently slightly muddier, with evidence towards the other side of the spectrum that is multiple origins. Briefly, there seems to be some mixing of non-sapiens autosomal DNA, something that was not visible in the mDNA or Y DNA studies done earlier. Fascinating stuff. This is where the book is strongest, illustrating the evidence, its origins, the strength of that evidence, and the possible interpretations of that evidence. Stringer seems to be fairly even-handed in his treatment of various theories, although he clearly has a bias towards his own (that is, in fairness, well-supported by data).

Where the book falls a little flatter is when it tries to extrapolate behavior and causal effects. Clearly, there is much to be learned here. As Stringer says, we are pretty good at knowing the where and when of human evolution (with some important gaps), but the why is still pretty much up in the air. This shouldn't be surprising given the size of the questions (e.g., why did Neanderthals go extinct vs.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  67 reviews
149 of 155 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Human Origins Explained, and Explained Superbly! April 2 2012
By Chris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Chris Stringer's "Lone Survivors: How We Came to be the Only Humans on Earth" comes along some seventeen years after his ground-breaking book "African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity" (Henry Holt, 1996). Stringer is one of the principal architects and proponents of the "Out-of-Africa" (OOA) hypothesis associated with the origin and dispersal of anatomically modern humans, i.e., Homo sapiens. According to Stringer and the OOA hypothesis, anatomically modern humans evolved in Africa nearly 200,000 years ago, and then 'something' happened about 50,000 years ago that resulted in essentially the relatively rapid spread of our species into much of Eurasia, eastern Asia, Indonesia and Australia, and into western Europe over a period of about 10,000 years! What is even more remarkable is that it now appears that there were other populations of archaic Homo species that we coexisted and/or competed with for a time, likely including Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, and the newly discovered little people of Flores, Homo floresiensis.

In just under 280 pages, Chris Stringer takes the reader through the history of our human origins with the fossil evidence. He synthesizes the latest advances in knowledge associated with paleoclimatology, geochronological dating methods, and geology and plate tectonics. Most importantly, Stringer spends much of the book talking about the evolution of human behavior (e.g., developing and utilizing technology, use of symbolism, developing survival and coping strategies, burial of dead, etc.). The evolutionary steps leading to Homo sapiens wasn't a given. It was really a very near run thing, and without the ability to rapidly adapt and respond to changing climate conditions and subsequent changed ecological conditions modern humans could quite likely have become extinct just as our close cousins, the Neanderthals, did about 30,000 years ago. For example, the massive supervolcanic eruption of Toba on the island of Java was very nearly a game-changer for all human species about 73,000 years ago. Finally, over the past couple of decades or so, much of the OOA hypothesis has been validated and bolstered with the results of numerous studies and analyses of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome DNA. In other words, we really and truly are all African.

While all of this discussion of fossils, paleoconditions, and genetics may sound a bit daunting, complicated, or even off-putting, Dr. Stringer does a sterling job of leading the reader--whether layperson or specialist--through the data and evidence with his well-written and entertaining prose. I've kind of come to realize that Stringer and his peers--paleoanthropologists--are really much akin to detectives hot on the trail to better understand when we became who we are, and how we became who we are, and perhaps even be able to answer why. This book will definitely help you get your arms (and brain) around the critical issues and questions associated with what makes us human

In closing, it is my opinion that Chris Stringer's incredibly thought-provoking Chapter 8 of the book, "Making A Modern Human" ought to be required reading by all of us. I don't know that I have underlined more passages or made more marginalia notes in a book since I left college in the mid-1980s. Reading this book, and Chapter 8 in particular, has stimulated a desire in me to chase down a lot of the technical references and journal articles that Dr. Stringer has provided in the book's extensive bibliography. This is a subject that profoundly fascinates me, and I am committed to educate myself and better understand my human origins, and have nothing but admiration and gratitude to Chris Stringer for inspiring me toward this end. All I can say is read Lone Survivors, it really is one of the most comprehensive overviews of the current state-of-knowledge associated with our human origins that I've read.
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please read this book... April 10 2012
By J. Borree - Published on Amazon.com
Lone Survivor, titled Origin of Our Species in the UK, is an up-to-date overview of the science and speculation about our species' nature and survival. I found it well written and enjoyable but confusing at times because of a lack of headings of the different sections in the chapters. Springer changes topics and develops ideas within each chapter that could have been emphasized and organized by sub-headings.
The author deals mainly with the origins, cultures and travels of Erectus, Heidelbergensis, the Neanderthals and Sapiens. So, the book is focused on our species as the "lone survivor" with passing references to much earlier species. Springer also pays attention to the Neanderthals and, I believe, is up-to-date in the DNA science. I especially liked Springer's theory that cultures both grow and degenerate, explaining that physical and cultural changes may not be linear. He touches on art, language, and possible spiritual beliefs. Only occasionally did the author's suppositions not get labelled as such. For example, he mentioned that we are the only species to remember our dreams...
While this book is not a pure academic presentation nor a basic book nor summer beach read, it is written by an experienced scientist who is still entranced with his subject. I came away from this book with much more knowledge, the feeling that I had almost been in a conversation with the author and an admiration for the multiple hominids that walked all over this planet.
This book is worth a read and re-read! It has, by the way, a great bibliography. For more reviews, please check with AmazonUK.
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars difficult but informative read Oct. 14 2012
By DaLaoHu - Published on Amazon.com
I'm having a tough time deciding whether to give this book three stars or four. This is a very informative book, no doubt about that. If you're a layperson like me interested in the latest developments in the field of human origins, this book provides a wealth of up-to-date information and will also lead you into new ways of thinking about the subject. For instance, in my case, although it seems so obvious in retrospect, I never considered how important such a simple thing as population size was to the ultimate evolution of our species. But of course, ancient human populations were not necessarily expansive, as I had always tended to think of them, but at times could have been (and most likely were) limited to very small pockets of survivors, greatly impacting their ultimate chances for survival. And perhaps more importantly, greatly impacting the results of any survival. (Which leads to the further question, which the author puts forward: how many pockets like these might there have been which we do not yet even know about?)

And for this wealth of knowledge I give it four stars. This is a book well worth reading. You will be gifted with a thorough and thought-provoking survey of most of the recent trends and discoveries concerning the subject of human origins.

But, oh, the writing and editing ... It seems to me this book was a rush job, that with the field changing so quickly, both the author and editor felt compelled to get it to the market fast. And the text suffers for it. There are far too many references that are not adequately followed up on or placed out of context. Often the reader is left to simply scratch his head and wonder: what? And perhaps then wonder why even bother to continue. The chapter on dating techniques is almost unbearable. A little time and thought could have corrected many of these problems, but the editor(s) didn't seem to have or give much time and thought to it. And for that I am wanting to demote it to three stars.

But the light at the end of the tunnel, the one saving grace, is this: That each succeeding chapter tends to get easier to read than the one preceding. And in consequence, more interesting. So that if you can plow through the first eighty pages or so, you will get rewarded the rest of the way through. And even more so the further you read.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Duplicate books July 11 2012
By Bookworm - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Caution: As another reviewer noted, this is the same book as Stringer's The Origin of Our Species, published in the UK. Nowhere in Amazon's description is this stated, and since one was published in 2011 and the other in 2012, I thought they were different and ordered both titles. The book is an interesting survey of recent research, focused on the way genetics is clarifying much that was in the fossil record. I recommend the book, but it seems silly to have changed the title and cover when it crossed the ocean. Very confusing.
50 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uh, where are we now? Aug. 15 2012
By Andrea Matthews - Published on Amazon.com
This book seems clearly intended for a lay audience (no footnotes or endnotes, lots of background info), but seems to me to be suffering from a case of "expertitis." I got about halfway through the book and became so befuddled with the cloud of information that I just gave up. I agree with Velho that a stronger editor's hand was needed, at least to bring out the substructure of Stringer's discussion so that the educated layperson could actually track and remember it. On the macro-scale, the chapters give the reader some help, and on the micro-scale, Stringer's prose is comfortable and engaging. Unfortunately in between it gets very disorienting - like having a map with only countries and no towns, or only towns and no connecting streets. Once I began to feel that, I looked around more critically and noticed that the illustrations (mostly photos of fossil remains and a couple of maps) seemed just plopped into the book in random locations, often far from where their subject matter was discussed in the text; there should also have been many more illustrations, tightly linked to the text, given the many relatively unfamiliar names that came up in his argument. An editor should have caught that and with a little effort the book could have been greatly improved for its (apparent) target audience.
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