10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good to see some science raise its head in anthropology
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...
Published 15 months ago by Frances Bell
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars And Humans who survived and prospered.
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...
Published on 28 Dec 2010 by R. G. G. Boss
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good to see some science raise its head in anthropology,
This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (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).
I was also fascinated by the descriptions of major migrations of humans across Asia, and having myself wandered around much of the previously-glaciated Asian landscape and seen the effect of lack of iodine here: did cretinism have a significant effect on migrations and settlement and success?
Every book I have read on ice age humans on the steppe and tundra thinks they were just like us with added skills in crafts and construction, and unless they lived by a cliff over which to drive big game, they stalked their prey until they could get some arrows into it. OK, that was doubtless done. But archaeologists should spend time out in the steppe with people who still have skills not mentioned in any text book. They are not like us physically. They are more like our Olympian medallists, but stronger. It would not be a great effort to move around summer to winter, or to cover hundreds of miles on foot. Exercise was normal. I've seen people in Mongolia in small groups run down wild animals and even corner and restrain half-wild yaks bare-handed. Lassoos made of vegetable cord or animal sinews are used on big animals at a safer distance than spears, and cord traps and drop traps can be set. Marmots can be captured by putting on a white mask (deer face bones)and creeping right up to an animal.
Today, Mongolians use horses to carry them in order to save calories. I wonder whether 50000 years ago, before horses were tamed, if people deliberately took time out from physical activity when food was not abundant, perhaps in winter, and that arts and crafts were done by hunters and trackers, not just specialist individuals, because they needed to rest to stop using up calories. And mothers are not restricted by young babies even today in rural Asia - the baby is simply tied on to the mother's back and life goes on.
So - a verdict? Dunno, but I'm glad I read it and it inspired me, and was fairly easy to read. Like all such books it gets skewered by the next discovery, and it does go on a bit without pinning down dates and places - why keep digging a potential hole when you've covered what you wanted to say? Having said all that, I wish there were more books with a different slant on the past to counter the Out of Africa 'we-know-it-all' consensus.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars And Humans who survived and prospered.,
This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (Paperback)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. Unfortunately for this view the centre of our culture is occupied by commercial and scientific innovators who will lead the response to change. Mankind is now only meaningful as a societal animal largely liberated from immediate physical constraints. It is the information, organisation and will of our collective brains that matters.
52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More human than human,
This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (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. Just as intelligent as other peoples in Europe, Asia and Africa, these people became somewhat isolated and had to adapt with the technology they brought with them 50-60000 years ago (though some came later) to unfamiliar and hostile environments, just as the Neandertal had to in Eurasia.
As with the Australian Aboriginal, their adaption to a hostile environment with the technology they had, led a serious reduction in population per area of ground to survive. And they apparently adapted very well to the environment they inherited over time. But just as the Australian Aborigine was restricted by a limited population, lack of agricultural plant life and beasts of burden, seriously diminished any technological advancements, the Neandertal's faced similar types of limitations, other humans did not have to cope with, in their extreme conditions. When the Europeans came to Australia, as with the humans to Ice Age Euarasia, they came better prepared through tens of thousands of years of cultural development and improved technology.
Europeans and Asians have had the advantage of exchange of ideas over the Eurasian continent during the Holocene, as well as agricultural foods and beasts of burden and therefore a greater population per area of ground. This has allowed significant technological advancement. Therefore when Europeans came to Australia to settle, the indigenous population were overwhelmed by a superior technology, a continuous influx of migration and of course new diseases that decimated the existing population.
A parallel surely exists with the influx of a technologically advanced African humanity into Eurasia 40-50000 years ago. Though they had to also adapt to the new conditions they had developped culturally and technologically in such a manner that they were eventually better able to survive and flourish. Just as with the Australian Aboriginal, the Neandertal could not compete and found their feeding grounds increasingly encroached upon by a more numerous and technologically more sophisticated people.
But the caveat here is that, as with the Austraian Aborigine, it was not intelligence that was lacking and led to the Neandertal's disappearance, but rather isolation from the greater numbers of humans, who had had greater opportunity to develop their technology. And as is evident now, just as with the Australian Aborigine, they didnt disappear, they merely became absorbed within the migrant population through intermarriage and interbreeding.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neanderthals Re-Assessed for the General Reader,
This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (Hardcover)This is the perfect introduction for the general reader to this much misunderstood branch of our evolutionary cousins - the Neanderthals, covering what they looked like, where they came from & the various theories over their extinction.
The author has organised the volume is sensible & easily digestible chapters. He puts the entire context in place before walking us through some of the accepted doctrines & challenging them.
At the same time, he challenges some of the preconceptions we have, mostly which have developed from movies, TV & even newspapers.
There are a few illustrations & maps but I would have liked more to help break up the text.
One of the most startling elements of this book for the general reader is that it challenges the myth of our own superiority. The tradition version is that we survived & prospered as we are the better suited more flexible branch but you leave this book less certain of this & questioning some of the `facts' you have learnt. Maybe chance had a much larger role than we thought? It is a humbling thought.
All in all, a well-produced & put together general science book - the perfect holiday read if you fancy something different but no less addictive.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for those who want to get to the main issues quickly.,
This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (Paperback)This is in the form of a lengthy and often very repetitive argument. If you want a book that gives a popular and accessible account of the main points of interest rather than a laboured treatise, this is not the book for you.
4.0 out of 5 stars Are Homo Sapiens mixed breed of proto humans?,
This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (Kindle Edition)The book by Clive Finlayson is a good read but there are some issues to contend with. The Ancestors as he called it are unique and different from proto humans, according to many palentologists but I tend to disagree with the notion. It is a very difficult task to extract DNA from such proto humans, let alone finding them in the first place. I have read that some present day Europeans have as much as 4% DNA of Neanderthals. This is quite revealing as it shows that there was widespread mating and breeding between these peoples. The DNA differences between them may be minute, even less than humans and chimpanzees. If you factor in infant/child mortality rates and deaths from predations and diseases, genetic dilution etc, the human~Neanderthal population base may be much bigger. Likewise my notion is that present day Asians are related to Denisovans and Homo Erectus. I do not rely much on DNA on
2.0 out of 5 stars Neanderthal studies as stamp collecting,
This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (Kindle Edition)This book is largely an attack on the author's professional colleagues masquerading as a book for the general reader. He complains that palaeontologists generalise on the basis of very limited evidence, often confined to the single site they have spent years working on, and then proceeds to do the same himself. Generalisations are swept and hobby-horses are ridden into the ground. As for the supposed disappearance of the Neanderthals before modern humans appeared, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". This is the kind of science which Lord Rutherford had in mind when he observed that "All real science is physics; everything else is stamp collecting". If you want a balanced account of the current state of Neanderthal studies, save your money and look in Wikipedia.
5.0 out of 5 stars Knowing our progenitors ,the ancestors,
This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (Kindle Edition)What I needed to know to fill gaps and whet further investigation? Provocative and well written..Edifying for all who would look beneath.the surface.
4.0 out of 5 stars necessity - i.e. climate change - as the mother of invention,
This is a very interesting book that systematically looks at the impact of climate and ecology on the process of human evolution. It is subtle, full of scientific proofs, and somewhat iconoclastic in that it argues that luck - and not genetic superiority - explains why homo sapiens and not the neanderthal are the human species that survived. While a vitally important perspective and often fun, it is a difficult read that is more academic than popular science in my opinion.
The author has a number of very clear points he wants to make. First, in keeping with a more sophisticated notion of neo-Darwinism, species evolve in answer to specific challenges in the environmental niches. Only when the niche changes do we learn whether or not these traits are useful in the new conditions of equilibrium. As such, the homo genus evolved through a series of steps: a) some left the forest, while those that stayed remained fruit-eating apes; b) as forests diminished, those that had left and accustomed themselves to more varied diets survived; c) those that moved into the plain needed both upright motor skills over longer distances, but also better brains to remember cues and directions and, much later, cooperative behaviors (hence increase in brain size).
Second, the species that innovate - that know how to live under more difficult conditions - are the ones that tend to have survival advantages. This explains, in his view, why the neanderthal died out: they were used to a certain environment and had a bigger body type less well adapted to the conditions that emerged during the last ice age; homo sapiens, accustomed to having to hunt over wider distances in more varied environments and gifted with lighter bodies that enabled them to cover long distances, were far better adapted for that climate. (This is his principal thesis and he doesn't prove it to my satisfaction, but it s fascinating and useful, particularly the correlations with ecological transformations that accompanied climate change.)
Third, also in keeping with physiological research, he looks to the plasticity of organisms as they adapt, so that they can develop new characteristics that are not dependent on the slow process of mutation but much quicker from the transformation of existing potential. In this way, he explains the sudden appearance of larger brain capacity, not as raw intelligence but in new applications of mind, e.g. in communications, new behaviors, etc. Again, it is not simplistic genetic superiority, but a conjuncture of factors that converge to produce change. This, in my opinion, is a far better explanation for the qualitative than change we witness in homo sapiens from around 50,000 years ago than the genetic mutation ones currently popular.
I recommend this book to those curious and well versed in these controversies. This is not an introductory text, but a long and challenging scientific proof that skips over much of the basics. It adds a crucial dimension to a great debate and should be digested. That being said, as a reading experience, it leaves a lot to be desired - the author is not a natural writer, the book is repetitive, many of the points esoteric and not always well explained. I got a lot out of it, but it often felt like work to read.
4.0 out of 5 stars Further research into evolution,
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The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived by Clive Finlayson (Paperback - 11 Nov 2010)