Reviewed by Richard Lord
High School Biology Teacher
Many books and television programs give us information about prehistoric humans, their anatomy, their lifestyles, their cultures, and their migrations. This book reveals the fascinating process by which this information has been obtained by archaeologists and other scientists.
Focusing on four specific hominin specimens, the authors describe each one in terms of the three Ds of archaeology—discovery, deductions, and debates. The four specimens examined are Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old Homo erectus fossil; Lapedo Child, a 24,500-year-old specimen believed by some to be a Neandertal/modern human hybrid; Kennewick Man, a 9000-year-old possible ancestor of Native Americans; and Iceman, a 5300-year-old specimen preserved in Alpine ice.
The "Discovery" section for each hominin is an adventure story, introduced with a creative scenario of how the particular individual died and ended up as a fossil. This leads to an account of the eventual discovery of its remains, its excavation, and the subsequent study and analysis of the specimen. The "Deductions" section reveals the thoughts and ideas of scientists as they consider the significance of the remains. Materials from a fossil site are used by scientists from various disciplines to reconstruct the size, structure, health, and age of the body; the environment in which it lived; what it ate; and how it interacted with other species, both human and non-human.
There is an amazing amount of detail in the conclusions resulting from the scientists’ deductions. For example, one scientist claims that the facial structure of Kennewick Man indicated that he “cried a lot.” The "Debates" section confirms that the story of these hominins is not a closed book. There is much disagreement and controversy on some of the deductions. Often, a new discovery challenges someone’s long-held theory, that person is reluctant to accept a new interpretation, and arguments become rather heated. This section is an eye-opener to the process by which scientific information becomes established.
This book would be appropriate for high school and advanced middle school classes. Several branches of science are introduced, and the scientific process is well-illustrated with numerous examples of how scientists work, interpret evidence, make deductions, debate interpretations, and refine points of view. Many different technologies, from microscopic pollen analysis to DNA analysis, are explained as some of the ways used to unlock the secrets of the human past. The book also includes numerous illustrations, many in color, as well as suggestions for further reading, a timeline, a glossary, a bibliography, and identifications of all of the scientists mentioned in the stories of the hominins.
Review posted on 5/11/2010