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From Ape to Ancestor Volume 58 Number 4, July/August 2005
by Richard Milner
The Complete World of Human Evolution

In 1859, Darwin's critics jibed: "Where is the missing link between apes and humans?" Today we have so many missing links we hardly know what do with them all. With The Complete World of Human Evolution (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2005; $39.95), British paleoanthropologists Chris Stringer and Peter Andrews, both of London's Natural History Museum, have produced a spectacular, authoritative guide to this embarrassment of riches. It will bring you up to speed on even the most recent discoveries, including last year's headline-making 18,000-year-old skeletons of diminutive humans from the Indonesian island of Flores.

Have you heard about the enigmatic Ankarapithecus skull found in 1996 in the Turkish desert, which resembles that of ancestral apes from both Asia and Europe? Did you know that the best European ape fossils were discovered within the past decade in Rudabanya, Hungary? Or that the six-million-year-old Toumai skull found three years ago in Chad is claimed to be closest to the split-off of the human lineage from that of the apes? Important sites covered in the book include Atapuerca, a cave system in northern Spain that over the past decade has yielded 30 pre-Neandertal individuals and the 800,000-year-old partial skull of a young boy, and Dmanisi, a sacked medieval town near Tbilisi in Georgia where several spectacular Homo ergaster-like skulls, dated at 1.8 million years, were recently found. As the oldest human fossils outside of Africa, they represent the earliest known appearance of humans in eastern Europe--more than a million and half years before we Homo sapiens spread outward from the "cradle" continent. By 160,000 years ago, fully modern human populations had become established throughout Africa, and by 12,000 years ago had spread all over the world. But that's not the entire picture. In the past decade, a more complex image has emerged, with waves of different kinds of humans evolving separately in Africa and spreading over the earth at different times, sometimes with several species coexisting in the same areas. (The authors, firm adherents to the dominant "Out of Africa" model, virtually ignore the less-accepted rival theory of "Multiregionalism," which proposes that modern humans independently evolved in several spots around the world.)

With 432 illustrations, half of them in color, and charts that show relationships and time frames, the mass of information is well organized, entertaining, and accessible. This cutting-edge compendium of the evidence for human evolution could give a creationist apoplexy.

Richard Milner, anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, is author of The Encyclopedia of Evolution and Darwin's Universe, due out in 2006.

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© 2005 by the Archaeological Institute of America