The History of Our Tribe: Hominini
Barbara Welker, SUNY Geneseo
Pub Date: 2017
ISBN 13: 978-1-9423414-0-6
Publisher: Open SUNY
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The comprehensive nature of the material presented in this textbook was uneven. While some topics such as primate social organization was thorough read more
The comprehensive nature of the material presented in this textbook was uneven. While some topics such as primate social organization was thorough and well presented, other topics were found wanting and sorely inadequate. This is particularly obvious with introductory material. For instance, one would expect a textbook on human evolution to present a discussion on the process of evolution by way of natural selection. Although the terms “evolution” and “natural selection” are used throughout the book, there is no explanation of what evolution is and how it works. Having taught many courses in physical anthropology, it has become painfully obvious that many, if not most, students have a poor understanding of these concepts. It is fair to assume that any textbook on the evolutionary sciences will contain a basic presentation of what evolution is. However, the discussion of evolution is pretty much summed up by the following sentence: “Biologists and geneticists have refined the theory of evolution by means of natural selection by determining how traits are inherited” (page 5). Additionally much of the basic introductory material is perfunctory. For example, the history of paleoanthropology is presented in a single paragraph (page 7). Likewise, students often wonder how we know when certain hominid species lived. And it is important that they know that the dates we have are actually based on real evidence. However, the discussion of dating techniques is extremely abbreviated, frequently omitting detail about the underlying premises upon which the dating method is based. The student is told that obsidian hydration dating is used to date obsidian (volcanic glass) by measuring the amount of hydration that has occurred (page 11). This is not particularly useful to the student who has no familiarity with how the past is dated. It would have been much more effective had the author explained that after a piece of obsidian is broken, it will absorb water at a constant rate along the broken edge. This then can be measured to determine how long ago the piece was broken or chipped. And if this piece happens to be tool or the byproduct of tool manufacture, we can tell how long ago the tool was made. Discussion of other dating methods suffer from the same lack of detail and explanation. Similar issues occur for the author’s discussion of primate classification (pages 13-23). Thus, the discussion on cladistics suffers from the same perfunctory treatment as dating methods mentioned above. At the very least, a formal definition of “cladistics” would have been useful. Instead the author presents terms used to delineate branches in a cladogram without actually talking about what a cladogram is or even what cladistics is. On the other hand, other topics, such as primate social organization and the characteristics of Hominim anatomy are thorough and well presented. Where the textbook really shines is in its presentation of the various hominid species that have evolved throughout the Miocene, Pliocene and Pleistocene Epochs. In these chapters, which are located at the end of the book, the author presents a wealth of information concerning each hominid species, including information about the relevant fossils, important sites, who discovered the fossils and what the each species reveals about the evolution of our own species, Homo sapiens.
Overall the book was generally accurate in terms of the material it presented and in terms of the general consensus held by those who work within the field of paleoanthropology. However, there is one glaring issue that hits the knowledgeable reader in the face, the mistranslation of the scientific names given to some of the species discussed in the book. For some reason, the term for the genus name “Homo” was erroneously based on the Greek word homo meaning “same” rather than the Latin word, homo, which means “man”. This results in strange translations for the various species under discussion. So Homo habilis, which should mean “the handy man” in Latin (in reference to its production and use of the first known stone tools) is instead translated as “the same man”. This makes one wonder how such basic information made it past the editorial process, and may cause one to question the validity of other information presented in the book.
The material is current and up to date in terms of the research and presents the most recent understanding of hominid evolution. This is quite an accomplishment for a text dealing with a science that is constantly facing new data that challenges everything we thought we knew. Furthermore, the structure of that part of the book dealing with various hominid species is presented in a catalog form that will be very easy to update as new developments emerge.
Clarity of material presented in the textbook is somewhat uneven. Most of the lack of clarity stems from the same issues discussed above in terms of the book’s comprehensiveness. This is further exacerbated by prose that is frequently stilted and awkward, potentially impeding the students’ understanding of complex ideas. Furthermore the author’s tendency to add silly comments throughout the book frequently gets in the way of communication of the material.
The book is consistent in its use of terminology. And the overall framework for how the material is organized and presented is logical and well done.
The overall structure of the textbook makes it easy to divide the book into logical segments to be assigned for reading throughout the semester in a general course on human evolution. The topics presented are: Paleoanthropology, Primate Classification, Primate Evolution, Primate Social Organization and What is a Hominim. This is then followed by a comprehensive discussion and catalogue of various hominim species thus far known. The only real problem is that, although the book is divided into topics that make sense, the coverage of the topics themselves is uneven with some topics being thorough and others lacking in the presentation of information.
As indicated above the organization of the book is logical and well planned. However the perfunctory nature of some topics and the tendency towards the use of stilted, run-on sentences sometimes impedes the flow of information.
With exception of images drawn specifically for this book, images used in the book are all public domain images. Although not always the best, most are adequate to demonstrate the ideas being expressed by the author. On page 22, the author presents a link to an informative video demonstrating rudimentary linguistic capabilities of a bonobo chimpanzee named Kanzi. The link worked well. However some of the diagrams and text boxes, particularly those in the chapter on primate classification, are sometimes confusing.
With the exception of run-on and stilted sentences, the book is relatively free of grammatical errors. However those that do occur standout like a sore thumb. For instance, on page 15, where the author discusses the diminution of our olfactory senses, the author writes “We haplorhines have simpler, dry noses and do not smell as good!”
The language throughout the book is gender neutral and inclusive.
Due to the various issues discussed above, I would not adopt this book as a primary text for a course in human evolution. There are far too many gaps in basic information the students require in order to understand fully the concepts underlying the evolution of our species and the process of evolution generally. This need would be better served by a more detailed text on paleoanthropology and human evolution. However, I would certainly adopt this text as supplemental material primarily due to its excellent catalogue of the various hominid species that provides an invaluable understanding of our own evolutionary pathway.
This a great undergraduate-level text focusing on human paleontology that fills a gap between less detailed introductory texts and more complex or read more
This a great undergraduate-level text focusing on human paleontology that fills a gap between less detailed introductory texts and more complex or challenging text meant for the graduate level. The book highlights the key fossil primates and gives complete coverage of the hominid record. There is no index, but I didn't find this to be a problem.
The content was accurate and unbiased, which is not always easy in this discipline. I did not find errors.
The book is up-to-date, covering the most recent discoveries. If the rate of discoveries continues, updates will soon be needed, but the organization of the text lends itself to easy amendments.
This is a excellent book for an undergraduate course on human paleontology that is written with a sense of humor that should help draw students in to a fascinating topic.
This is a wonderfully consistent book which I think will support student-learning. Key terms are highlighted and some include pronunciation guides. When possible, every section covering the fossil record is organized in the same subsections: Sites, main people associated with the fossils, a brief introduction, discovery and geographic range, physical characteristics with tables highlighting primitive and derived characteristics, and environment and way of life.
Overall, I like the text's organization. For future editions could separate the section on dating techniques from the history of the discipline.
The organization makes sense and it follows the structure of a typical undergraduate course on human evolution: an overview of the discipline including dating techniques, a section that connects human and nonhuman primate ecology and behavior, the evolutionary history of the primates, anatomy, and the human fossil record. I think students will find the consistent structure to be easy to follow and understand.
Excellent use of images, charts. and tables. All of the links work.
The writing is clear, easy to understand; I did not find errors. The content is sufficiently challenging but avoids unnecessary jargon or overly complex concepts and details.
Explores evidence for the evolution of culture and fossil diversity.
I plan to adopt the book.
Table of Contents
About the Book
Part I: An Introduction to Paleoanthropology
- 1. Paleoanthropology
- 2. Primate Classification
- 3. Primate Evolution
- 4. Primate Social Organization
- 5. What is a Hominim
Part II: Miocene Epoch
- 6. Sahelanthropus tchadensis
- 7. Orrorin tugenensis
- 8. Ardipithecus ramidus, Ardipithecus kadabba
Part III: Pliocene Epoch
- 9. Gracile Australopiths
- 10. Australopithecus anamensis
- 11. Australopithecus afarensis
- 12. Australopithecus bahrelghazali
- 13. Kenyanthropus platyops
- 14. Australopithecus prometheus or africanus
- 15. Australopithecus africanus
Part IV: Pleistocene Epoch
- 16. Paranthropines
- 17. Australopithecus/Paranthropus aethiopicus
- 18. Paranthropus boisei
- 19. Paranthropus robustus
- 20. Australopithecus garhi
- 21. Australopithecus sediba
- 22. Genus Homo
- 23. Homo habilis
- 24. Homo rudolfensis
- 25. Homo species indeterminate
- 26. Homo naledi
- 27. The "erectus Grade"
- 28. Homo ergaster
- 29. Homo erectus
- 30. Homo georgicus
- 31. Homo antecessor
- 32. Homo floresiensis
- 33. Homo heidelbergensis
- 34. The Denisovans
- 35. Homo neanderthalensis
- 36. Homo sapiens
About the Book
Where did we come from? What were our ancestors like? Why do we differ from other animals? How do scientists trace and construct our evolutionary history? The History of Our Tribe: Hominini provides answers to these questions and more. The book explores the field of paleoanthropology past and present. Beginning over 65 million years ago, Welker traces the evolution of our species, the environments and selective forces that shaped our ancestors, their physical and cultural adaptations, and the people and places involved with their discovery and study. It is designed as a textbook for a course on Human Evolution but can also serve as an introductory text for relevant sections of courses in Biological or General Anthropology or general interest. It is both a comprehensive technical reference for relevant terms, theories, methods, and species and an overview of the people, places, and discoveries that have imbued paleoanthropology with such fascination, romance, and mystery.
About the Contributors
Barbara Welker is Associate Professor of Anthropology at SUNY Geneseo. She received her Ph.D. in 2004 from SUNY Buffalo. She is a biological anthropologist, anatomist, primatologist, and behavioral ecologist. She teaches courses in biological anthropology, e.g. “Human Evolution”, “Human Ecology”, and “Primates”, and anatomy, e.g. “Human Osteology”. Her research involves feeding ecology and color vision genetics in mantled howler monkeys in Costa Rica.