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The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived Hardcover – 24 Sep 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 1st Edition edition (24 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199239185
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199239184
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 2.3 x 14.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 874,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


Informative. (Ewen Callaway, New Scientist)

A provocative new book. (Sharen Begley, Newsweek)

About the Author

Clive Finlayson is a noted expert on the Neanderthals and has been researching their final stand in Gibraltar. He is Director of the Gibraltar Museum and Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto, having trained in Oxford as an evolutionary ecologist.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Parklands on 13 Sept. 2012
Format: Paperback
How refreshing it was to me to read the story of Ice Age humans set against an ecological background. The dying of forests as the cold advanced, and the new provision of mammoth tusks and bones as building material, are just two parts of the everyday life of the humans surviving climate change.

As a professional in this field, I wish there had been more reference points about this: actual dates and locations where the temperature went up and down by 5-10 degrees during the main span of the last ice age, covering the critical period of human movements. Say 70000 to 20000 years ago.

He writes so eloquently about climate change that I could visualise the dying of the conifer forest and appearance of tundra. I wonder for how many years there was dead timber lying around that could have been used for fires. And the coming and going of woodland - I know from my own research that when the temperature climbed to that of the present day, trees didn't necessarily appear. Because they were too far away, and because the dispersal of fruits and seeds by birds would only be fast in landscapes with perches or reasons for the birds to venture outside the trees.

With good radiocarbon dating now available, I can see a detailed map of vegetation, human activity and climate over the planet is ready to be worked in detail. The book inspired me to think about this; about the Denisovan humans in Siberia; about the yeti (which I believe to be a very old folk memory of ice age humans, much as the myth of a great flood turned out to be real despite the thousands of years of the story being passed down generations).
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By R. G. G. Boss on 28 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was an exciting read that had an element of 'can't put down'.
The author is very good in explaining the politics that lie behind the received wisdom of hominid development and pointing out that the evidence is very scanty and has been worked too hard, often with the intention of placing a new find in direct lineage as an important step towards modern humans. This is a very valid and important revision. His technique of defining habitats and then showing that it is highly likely that humans who lived in a particular habitat would expand to fill all of it across continents is illuminating. The explanation of why Neanderthals went extinct is lucid and compelling, essentially they are overadapted for a woodland ecology and the ice ages destroyed them as their habitat failed. Yet he protests too much that modern man is just luckier than the Neanderthals. In similar rapid change situations described latter modern humans adapt better than Neanderthals and that is not just luck. He does also try to have his cake and eat it. The Neanderthals in Gorham's cave are not living like the hidebound ambush predators he describes earlier.
Similarly the explanation of the modern gracile body developing in the Steppe Tundra region fails to explain why the population left behind in Africa has equally gracile bodies.

I'd have given the book a 5* but for the rubbish chapter at the end. Having talked with great authority about 4 million years Finlayson then quite misunderstands modernity and how it is not like any form of the past. His theory is that conservatives who are highly adapted fail when rapid change occurs whereas 'innovators' living poor lives on the margins adapt better.
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55 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Bearfax on 9 Dec. 2009
Format: Hardcover
The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived

This is the best publication I have read on the subject for years in an excellent hard cover publication. An original perspective on early Ice Age humans and their Neanderthal cousins and some quite innovative ideas on why we survived the intolerable Ice age conditions in Eurasia between 20000 to 50000 years ago and possibly why the Neanderthal, a better adapted human for the conditions, didnt. What I liked best was the Jared Diamond style perspective of looking at the human creature from a biological or even Zoological viewpoint without the natural biases regarding the perceived intellectual superiority of modern humans. There is no suggestion here that we had some superiority advantage over our cousins. Rather that good fortune and opportunism gave modern humans an advantage that could have just as easily benefitted Neanderthals, had their circumstances permitted.

I would strongly suggest to anyone wanting to expand their awareness of these poorly understood and under rated people to have a look at this one. Its worth the journey.


An addendum September 2011 given recent discoveries:

Having read some other reviews there is still I believe this concept of superiority many of us have of the modern human creature. I would suggest reading some of Jared Diamonds works to gain balance

The Neandertal people, though genetically different in some ways, suffered as I see it, a similar plight to the Australian Aboriginal people.
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