Human Evolution: A very short introduction, by Bernard Wood, Oxford, 2005, 144 ff.
The biology of human evolution
By Howard A. Jones
Though this is another admirable publication in Oxford's Very Short Introduction series, generally intended for readership by non-specialists, the degree of biological detail here make this more suitable for undergraduate biologists with an interest in paleoanthropology. The author is himself a medically qualified paleoanthropologist, a Professor of Human Origins at the George Washington University in America, so there is much, perhaps necessarily, anatomical detail about the fossil human remains that have been unearthed.
After an introduction that takes us from biblical accounts of our origins, through the work of Vesalius, Lamarck, Darwin, Huxley, Lyell and Mendel, right up to Watson and Crick and the human genome project, we are treated to a discussion of the biological differentiation of humans (hominins) and panins, gorillas and orang-utans - our genetic similarities and anatomical differences.
There are details of oxygen isotope measurement as a guide to past climates; methods of dating fossils and the sediments or rocks in which they are found; and how the age and sex of hominins is determined from the skeletal fragments that anthropologists usually have to be content with. The author points out that while `modern humans have a substantial fossil record . . . the fossil record for chimpanzees [our genetically nearest animal relatives] is virtually non-existent.' So the story is largely one of intelligent piecing together of our ancestry from what remains there are.
It was Darwin who first suggested that, as we are probably related to the apes and they exist largely in Africa, this would be a good place to start looking for human remains. Modern biologists tell us that indeed we did, in the beginning, `come out of Africa'.
This is a well-written book full of fascinating, if at times a little overwhelming, detail. The book about Evolution in general by the Charlesworths in the same series is more accessible to the non-specialist.
Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.Evolution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)