Reviewed by Jim Young
Dr. Alice Roberts
Published by Dorling Kindersley
Price £20 hardback
This sumptuously illustrated book is augmented by well-annotated diagrams, photographs and specialist subject boxes, and we are indebted to numerous anthropologists, geologists, and palaeontologists for the information that has been garnered from their painstaking excavations.
While these geological and paeleological facts and artefacts flesh out the body of the genealogical timelines, what brings this book to life are the 3D reconstructions of the faces of our hominin ancestors. So startlingly lifelike are these models they unavoidably engender a reverence as we surreptitiously view their primordial lives and the sadness associated with the eventual demise of most of them.
The infographics of the overlapping timelines of existence of the various Hominins show that most were isolated branches of the evolutionary tree, and were not our direct ancestors. But the facial reconstructions are a chilling realisation of the “humanity” of the evolutionary eons that preceded the emergence of the ancestors of Homo sapiens. They also illustrate the enormity in space and time of the global colonisations. In an equally chilling way the extinctions of many of the branches of the hominim tree demonstrates the fragility of our grasp on our apparent evolutionary supremacy.
The encyclopaedic discourses on the scientific examination and evaluation of the painstaking excavation of fossils and their environs, along with the amount of information extracted are fascinating.
However much this beautifully illustrated book eases the assimilation of the evolution story, one must beware lest it engenders an egocentric smugness at the rich road leading exclusively to modern man and woman! We must remember that it is simply the evolutionary algorithm that (for now) places me as the reviewer and you as the reader of this book.
Deceptively attractive and accessible, this is far from a light book and requires careful reading to hold the evolutionary strands in mind as well as the esoteric paleontological nomenclature.
The book is rounded off with reference to the change from hunter gatherers to farmers, and the accruements of modern society: religion, trade, metalworking, craft, etc.
The recording of primordial sea level changes and glaciations are apt parameters to current discussions on climate change. The emphasis on just how immense these changes were and how humans had to evolve or cease to exist.
A fascinating, engaging and thought provoking book that truly resurrects our past.