To be human is to be curious. And one of the things we are most curious about is how we came to be who we arehow we evolved over millions of years to become creatures capable of inquiring into our own evolution.
In this lively and readable introduction, renowned anthropologist Ian Tattersall thoroughly examines both fossil and archaeological records to trace human evolution from the earliest beginnings of our zoological family, Hominidae, through the appearance of Homo sapiens to the Agricultural Revolution. He begins with an accessible overview of evolutionary theory and then explores the major turning points in human evolution: the emergence of the genus Homo, the advantages of bipedalism, the birth of the big brain and symbolic thinking, Paleolithic and Neolithic tool making, and finally the enormously consequential shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies 10,000 years ago. Focusing particularly on the pattern of events and innovations in human biological and cultural evolution, Tattersall offers illuminating commentary on a wide range of topics, including the earliest known artistic expressions, ancient burial rites, the beginnings of language, the likely causes of Neanderthal extinction, the relationship between agriculture and Christianity, and the still unsolved mysteries of human consciousness.
Complemented by a wealth of illustrations and written with the grace and accessibility for which Tattersall is widely admire, The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE invites us to take a closer look at the strange and distant beings who, over the course of millions of years, would become us.
The hominid fossil record begins some seven million years ago with species that are like humans but not human. But on what basis do we identify members of our own family and say that they are not merely humanlike but human? Ian Tattersall makes it clear that we haven't figured it out, and that this is what makes paleo-anthropology an interesting -- and very human -- endeavor. In this brief volume Tattesall can only hit the high points of the fossil chronology, such as "Lucy" "Turkana boy," and "Peking Man." More important is his demonstration of how the sparse fossil record combines with the superabundance of life on earth to make questions of human identity and origins particularly challenging. Given the fluid concept of species itself -- as many definitions "as there are naturalists" -- can there be a standard definition of a human? "Defining" characteristics such as big brains and small canine teeth have come and gone. Upright posture is the current favorite, but Tattersall looks beyond the singular to complex combinations of traits that are greater than the sum of their parts. Whatever it was (probably language) and wherever we place it, such a combination separates Homo sapiens from all the other hominids that ever were; not least, perhaps, the capacity for self-reflection that motivates us to look into our own beginnings. --Sean Redmond