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A Choice Outstanding Academic Book
A Library Journal Best Sci-Tech Book
A New York Times Notable Book
Once in a generation a book such as African Exodus emerges to transform the way we see ourselves. This landmark book, which argues that our genes betray the secret of a single racial stock shared by all of modern humanity, has set off one of the most bitter debates in contemporary science. "We emerged out of Africa," the authors cont, "less than 100,000 years ago and replaced all other human populations." Employing persuasive fossil and genetic evidence (the proof is in the blood, not just the bones) and an exceptionally readable style, Stringer and McKie challenge long-held beliefs that suggest we evolved separately as different races with genetic roots reaching back two million years.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|File size:||5 MB|
About the Author
Dr. Christopher Stringer, the scientist responsible for the single-origin theory, is the director of the Human Origins Group at the Natural History Museum in London.
Robin McKie is the Science Editor of the Observer in London.
Chris Stringer is the author of The Complete World of Human Evolution, Homo britannicus, and more than two hundred books and papers on the subject of human evolution. One of the world's foremost paleoanthropologists, he is a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He has three children and lives in Sussex and London.
Read an Excerpt
The Origins of Modern Humanity
By Christopher Stringer, Robin McKie
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 1996 Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie
All rights reserved.
The Kibish Enigma
A Personal Introduction by Chris Stringer
All great truths begin as blasphemies.
George Bernard Shaw
I have never been able to trace the source of my passion for fossils. Neither, to their eternal bafflement, could my family. Indeed, it was the basis for some unease that I spent so much of my childhood drawing and painting skulls — scarcely a healthy hobby for a growing boy, after all. I was also famed (if that is the right word) in our family for asking, as a youngster on one of my frequent visits to London's Natural History Museum, if the attendants could give me any old bits of skeleton they didn't need. Fortunately, their rebuff was of such gentleness that my ardor for ancient bones was left undented.
Indeed, such was my eagerness to spend my life among fossils that when I discovered it was possible to study human evolution as a special subject in its own right, I promptly discarded my dearly won place at medical school in order to devote myself to anthropology. The decision horrified my headmaster and my biology teacher, the latter concluding a sorrowful lecture with a prediction that I would never get a job "doing that subject." My parents, to their eternal credit, suppressed their unease — and backed my decision.
I have since had many reasons to be grateful for their support. My mother and father helped me to pursue a career which has involved me in one of the great scientific dramas of modern times: the unfolding of a radical new understanding of our birth as a species and about the source of what are commonly called racial differences. This new theory has, in turn, triggered one of the fiercest, most bitter debates about our origins — a considerable achievement for a field already infamous for polemical divisions and open rivalry. As a result, I have been permitted to be both observer and participant in one of the great intellectual clashes of this century.
At the time of my introduction to the subject, however, I was merely concerned with trying to make a career in it. I graduated from University College London, still imbued with a love of the study of human evolution, and began to plan my Ph.D. research in 1969 — in an intellectual climate dominated by a widespread antipathy towards social science, an aftermath of the student troubles of 1968. In addition, none of the "hard science" councils — which distributed cash for medical, scientific, or environmental projects — would take responsibility for research on fossil humans. The subject seemed to fall between all three. Despite the efforts of Michael Day (then at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School), Nigel Barnicot of University College London, and Don Brothwell of the Natural History Museum, I failed to raise the interests of any of these organizations.
By the summer of 1970, there were still no signs of a grant and my prospects of becoming a paleoanthropologist looked bleak. My biology teacher's forebodings about my future occupation were beginning to look ominously prescient. Indeed, I was on the verge of giving up my temporary job at the Natural History Museum to go to a teachers' training college when, at the last minute, a spare Medical Research Council post came up at Bristol University's anatomy department: for a student to conduct research on human evolution. Jonathan Musgrave, a lecturer at the department, phoned Brothwell, who gave him my name. Within a month I was on my way to Bristol.
Jonathan Musgrave had studied Neanderthals, that mysterious, sturdy lineage of human precursors who had lived, died, and been buried in the caves of Europe tens of thousands of years ago, and whose relation to our own species, Homo sapiens, underpins our understanding of ourselves and our evolution. In Musgrave's case, he had analyzed their hand bones, using a technique called multivariate analysis that exploits mathematical methods for examining many measurements at once. Two or more different objects — a pair of skulls, for example — are carefully surveyed, and a host of different measurements which mirror their shape are collected. Then, using the complex statistical methodology of multivariate analysis, it is possible to produce an overall measure of how much the two objects differ from each other. It is a powerful technique and I intended to use it on Neanderthal heads to determine just how similar they were to those of the CroMagnons, a race of early European members of Homo sapiens who thrived about 25,000 years ago and who were very similar to men and women today. As we shall see, this relationship is the source of considerable dispute among scientists today, for at its root lies the resolution of our own origins and nature. Did Neanderthals evolve into Cro-Magnons (and modern Europeans), or did the two represent distinct lineages or even species? I intended to bring an objective — not an emotional — approach to resolve these questions. I would use precise instruments such as calipers and protractors to determine skull height, breadth, and width; angle of forehead; projection of browridge; and dozens of other features to place Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons in their evolutionary context.
This work would shape my life and my career, it transpired — though I did not know this at the time. All that concerned me in the winter of 1970 was getting my hands on fossil skulls — many of which could be found in European museums where they had been gathering dust since the turn of the century. So Jonathan and I began to devise an itinerary that would allow me to visit the maximum number of the most important centers. In retrospect, planning and executing such a trip was only possible with the boldness — and naiveté — of youth. (I was twenty-two years old at the time.) Musgrave had traveled around Europe by train to collect his data, but then he had been investigating hand bones, of which there are relatively few in the fossil record. Skulls are bigger, hardier, and tend not to slip through the paleontologist's net so easily — which means there are far more bits of our predecessors' heads scattered round museums than fragments of their fingers and thumbs. And that in turn meant that I needed to visit many more such learned institutions than Musgrave had. Unfortunately, I raised less than a thousand dollars in travel grants, and was forced to use my ancient Morris Minor car, and camp or stay in youth hostels.
So in July 1971, I left for Europe — having only set foot there twice before: on a brief school trip to Paris and to an Italian seaside resort with my parents. I spoke French passably, but otherwise had to rely on a series of phrase books. Letters were sent out to the museums, but a number, especially in France, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia, failed to send replies. I started in Belgium where I spent my first night in what seemed to be a hostel for vagrants, run by nuns! I studied the Spy skeletons (unearthed in 1886) which were among the first Neanderthal bones to be discovered, and which confirmed that these were the remains of a distinct kind of early human being (and not those of a single anatomical freak as had been suggested). In Germany, I was joined by my girlfriend, Rosie (now my wife), and she accompanied me for much of the rest of the expedition. I examined the original Neander Valley skeleton (after which these ancient people were named) in Bonn, and then omitting East Germany on the grounds that a visit there would surely end in tears, I moved on to Czechoslovakia, tense as this was the third anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion. There my car was emptied out all over the road, and I was interviewed for four hours by border officials who made it clear that they found a long-haired, Western anthropology student about as welcome as a hippie at a regimental reunion. "Your visit is of no value to the people of Czechoslovakia," I was told in response to my pleadings that my work was of international scientific importance. I was a tourist, not a researcher, I was informed, and would therefore have to spend ten dollars a day in local currency, a sum that was utterly incompatible with my feeble budget. I cut my losses, and visit, and left Czechoslovakia after five days, although I still managed to find time to study both the Neanderthal and early Cro-Magnon remains kept at Brno.
After a brief stay in Vienna, we moved on to Zagreb, where I discovered that the head of its museum, Dr. Crnolatac, was out of the city and I was refused access to the largest collection of Neanderthals of all — the Krapina fossils excavated by the distinguished prehistorian Dragutin Gorjanovic-Kramberger. (His office had been perfectly preserved from that time, I discovered.) Many mysteries still surrounded this material, which had only been studied fully by one Western scientist, Loring Brace, of the University of Michigan, in the previous forty years. Perhaps I looked heartbroken, or possibly suicidal — for a junior curator took pity, and at great risk allowed me access to the Krapina fossils, which were regarded almost as holy relics by the Yugoslav scientific establishment.
I spent three days secluded with these fossil prizes. I was as happy as a fledgling paleontologist could be — until, on the second day, to my horror, one of the most important Krapina fossils, part of a face, came apart while I was measuring it. The prospect of a lifetime of Yugoslavian prison food flashed before my eyes until I realized the skull had separated along an old glued break. Rosie and I raced to a local hardware store, bought a tube of domestic adhesive, and amid much sweaty tension, I carefully reassembled one of the jewels of Yugoslavian science, watched by the junior curator, saving his neck, my career, and an international incident.
We drove south, with relief, to study another mystery fossil, excavated from the Petralona Cave in northern Greece and stored at Thessaloníka University, before Rosie had to return home, leaving me to take a terrifying drive west across the Pindus Mountains to the ferry terminal at Igoumenitsa. In Italy, I studied the Neanderthal remains from Monte Circeo and Saccopastore, and had my car broken into in Rome, losing a number of important possessions, including a human skull, a recent Homo sapiens specimen that I had brought along to act as reference material when making comparisons with ancient skulls — though God knows what my Italian thieves made of it. However, my precious measuring instruments and hard won data were not stolen. If I had lost these, I would — as I recorded in my diary — have simply thrown myself in the Tiber. From then on, I always slept with my data sheets under my pillow — only they were truly irreplaceable.
I finished my tour in France, the country that has the richest collections of human fossils in Europe. Unfortunately, my money had virtually run out, and following a second car break-in in Avignon, I was left with only the few dirty clothes in my laundry bag! I camped in the Bois de Boulogne in late October, with a decidedly limited wardrobe — not the most enjoyable experience of my life. To cap it all, one of the curators at the Musée de l'Homme proved to be less than helpful and I was denied access to the La Ferrassie skeleton, found in 1909 and the most complete of all Neanderthal fossils. Apparently studies of it had still not been completed sixty years after it had been discovered! I was also told that another key fossil skull, from the Jebel Irhoud cave in Morocco, had been returned there, an economy with the truth that was only revealed when secret assistance by another anthropologist — Yves Coppens, whose work on the East Side Story of human evolution will be discussed in Chapter 2 — gave me furtive access to it.
At the end of October 1971, I returned home to Bristol after my four-month, 5,000-mile, fossil-measuring marathon. Rosie and I had had our tent swept away during a thunderstorm in Prague, the car exhaust had collapsed and had to be held together with a coat hanger, and I had lost fourteen pounds. On the other hand, I was positively fattened intellectually by the firsthand knowledge I had gained of Europe's most important Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon skulls. The next two years were spent analyzing that data, and studying the Natural History Museum's, and other, collections. I devoted much of my time to laboriously transcribing my measurements onto computer punch cards so they could be analyzed by Bristol University's giant computer — a state-of-the-art machine that seemed impressive at the time, but which had less calculating power than a modern desktop machine. By the time I returned to the Natural History Museum at the end of 1973 as a senior research fellow, my Ph.D. was almost finished, and my conclusions were crystallizing.
I was sure — for a start — that Europe did not have two parallel, coexisting lines of human evolution, Neanderthal and modern, as some scientists had argued. Nor was it the case that Neanderthals represented a worldwide stage in the evolution of modern humans, as was also being suggested at the time. It looked like the Neanderthals had evolved in Europe, but that highly dissimilar Cro-Magnons had not. As I completed my Ph.D., I became convinced the Neanderthals were not our ancestors, that the early fossils of Europe recorded their evolution but not that of modern Homo sapiens, and that there was little sign of intermixture between Neanderthals and early modern people in either Europe or the Middle East, as some scientists had proposed. The latter had simply replaced the former. But where did those early modern people come from? I couldn't say in 1974. There was simply too little evidence.
It was then that I became involved with the man from Kibish. Strongly built, stained in hues of blue and brown from his lengthy immersion in the soil, the fragments of his skull, jaw, and skeleton had been disinterred from their resting place on the banks of the River Kibish in Ethiopia in 1967. A year later, these anatomical relics were sent on a brief tour of research centers where they were copied and measured before being packed and sent back to Addis Ababa where they have remained ever since. I had first glimpsed these few, precious fragments of bone in Michael Day's office while still a postgraduate student, and even included a mention of them in my Ph.D. However, it was not until 1974, when Michael Day was preparing to return them to Ethiopia, after measuring and copying them, and reconstructing their owner, that I got a proper look, an inspection that was eventually to trigger my fundamental rethink about the evolution of our species.
The man from Kibish (the skeleton's features suggest he was a male) had a higher and rounder skull and a bigger chin than any Neanderthal, and his skeleton suggests his was a taller and lighter frame than we find in those archetypal cave people — though he still had a powerful physique compared with an average modern male, with a noticeable browridge over his eyes and a rather broad and receding forehead. His bones had been found by an expedition led by Richard Leakey, who is better known for his discoveries of far more ancient and primitive hominid fossils around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, only a few hundred kilometers from the Kibish region of Ethiopia. Leakey's own work at Kibish, one of his earliest adventures, was carried out on behalf of his father, Louis, who was leading the Kenyan contingent of a joint French-American-Kenyan dig in the OmoKibish area. Its aim was to investigate the sediments lying on either side of the lower reaches of the Omo River where it widens and flows south towards Lake Turkana in north Kenya.
As Richard recalls in his autobiography, One Life, he and his team only narrowly avoided being eaten by crocodiles at one stage of their expedition. This was difficult and uncomfortable work; yet, for all their pains, their reward was a meager hoard of human remains: a partial skull and skeleton, a second skull discovered on the opposite bank of the Kibish River, and a third small fragment of skull. No volcanic rocks, which often supply important geological and chronological data, were found around the site. However, samples of shells collected from well above the level of the Kibish dig were dated to around 40,000 years ago, indicating that the bones, which were found far below this sequence of beds, must be far older. In addition, shells from the same level as the Kibish site were dated using a special technique called uranium-series dating — which we shall meet later — to around 130,000 years old. As Leakey put it: "I have probably collected as many fossils as anyone else around, and the one thing I do know is where things come from. The best estimate we could get from the geology and dating ... would place them [the Kibish fossils] at between 100,000 to 130,000 years old."
Excerpted from African Exodus by Christopher Stringer, Robin McKie. Copyright © 1996 Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1: The Kibish Enigma: A Personal Introduction by Chris Stringer,
2: East Side Story,
3: The Grisly Folk,
4: Time and Chance,
5: The Mother of All Humans?,
6: Footprints on the Sands of Time,
7: Africans Under the Skin,
8: The Sorcerer,
9: Prometheus Unbound,
About the Authors,