Ancient Bones: Unearthing the Astonishing New Story of How We Became Human

Ancient Bones: Unearthing the Astonishing New Story of How We Became Human


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In this “fascinating forensic inquiry into human origins” (Kirkus), a renowned paleontologist takes readers behind-the-scenes of one of the most groundbreaking archaeological digs in recent history.

Somewhere west of Munich, paleontologist Madelaine Böhme and her colleagues dig for clues to the origins of humankind. What they discover is beyond anything they ever imagined: the twelve-million-year-old bones of Danuvius guggenmosi make headlines around the world. This ancient ape defies prevailing theories of human history—his skeletal adaptations suggest a new common ancestor between apes and humans, one that dwelled in Europe, not Africa. Might the great apes that traveled from Africa to Europe before Danuvius’s time be the key to understanding our own origins?

All this and more is explored in Ancient Bones. Using her expertise as a paleoclimatologist and paleontologist, Böhme pieces together an awe-inspiring picture of great apes that crossed land bridges from Africa to Europe millions of years ago, evolving in response to the challenging conditions they found.

She also takes us behind the scenes of her research, introducing us to former theories of human evolution (complete with helpful maps and diagrams), and walks us through musty museum overflow storage where she finds forgotten fossils with yellowed labels, before taking us along to the momentous dig where she and the team unearthed Danuvius guggenmosi himself—and the incredible reverberations his discovery caused around the world.

Praise for Ancient Bones:

“Readable and thought-provoking. Madelaine Böhme is an iconoclast whose fossil discoveries have challenged long-standing ideas on the origins of the ancestors of apes and humans.”—Steve Brusatte, University of Edinburgh paleontologist and New York Times-bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

“Part Sherlock Holmes, part Indiana Jones, Ancient Bones is an entertaining and provocative retelling of the human evolutionary story. Böhme's hypotheses—written with enthusiasm and clarity—will be scientifically scrutinized for decades to come.”

—Jeremy DeSilva, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Dartmouth College

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781771647519
Publisher: Greystone Books
Publication date: 09/08/2020
Pages: 376
Sales rank: 561,552
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

MADELAINE BÖHME is a scientist, professor at the University of Tübingen, and founding director of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment.

RÜDIGER BRAUN is a journalist who translates cutting-edge science into gripping stories to affect societal change.

FLORIAN BREIER is a journalist, filmmaker, and writer for various television networks.

DAVID R. BEGUN is a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto and co-author of the 2019 study that broke the story of the newly discovered bones to the world.

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Introduction 1

Part 1 El Graeco and the Split Between Chimpanzees and Humans

1 Questioning the Origins of Humans: The Detective Work Begins 7

2 The Greek Adventure: The First Fossil Apes From Pikermi 12

3 In the Queen's Garden: Bruno von Freyberg's Discovery 18

4 In Search of Forgotten Treasure: A Journey Into the Catacombs Beneath the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg 23

5 Magnetometers and Microtomography: Ancient Bones in a High-Tech Lab 28

Part 2 The Real Planet of the Apes

6 Disasters and Successes: A Short History of the Search for Our Origins 41

7 African Beginnings: The Golden Age of Ape Evolution 57

8 Progress in Europe: Great Apes in Oak Forests 67

9 Apes in the Allgäu: Was Udo a Missing Link? 78

Part 3 The Cradle of Humanity: Africa or Europe?

10 The Primal Ancestor: Still an Ape or an Early Hominin? 97

11 Fossil Footprints From Crete: Puzzling Prints of an Ancient Biped 107

12 A Skull in the Sand and a "Secret" Thighbone: The Shady Case of Sahelanthropus 118

13 From Early Hominin to Prehistoric Human: The Out-of-Africa Theory Begins to Wobble 131

Part 4 Climate Change as a Driver of Evolution

14 Not Just Counting Bones: Reconstructing the Environment Is Key 151

15 Buried in the Sands of Time: Landscape and Vegetation in El Graeco's Time 162

16 The Great Barrier: A Gigantic Desert Becomes an Insurmountable Obstacle 177

17 A Gray-White Desert and a Salty Sea: The Mediterranean Dries Out 185

Part 5 What Makes Humans Human

18 Free Hands: Lots of Room for Creativity 197

19 Wanderlust: Curiosity About the Unknown 209

20 Hairless Marathoner: The Running Human 228

21 Fire, Intellect, and Small Teeth: How Diet Influenced the Development of the Brain 238

22 Vocal Connections: From Alarm Cries to Culture 248

Part 6 The Lone Survivor

23 A Confusing Complexity: The Problem With the Family Tree 263

24 A Puzzling Phenomenon: Humans From Denisova Cave 272

25 And Then There Was One: The Rational Human 281

Epilogue 289

Acknowledgments 293

Notes 295

Illustration Credits 322

Index 324

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