|Photo: Richard Harris|
Author Lydia Pine has degrees in anthropology and history and a doctorate in the history and philosophy of science from Arizona State University. She has participated in field work around the world and brings a unique perspective to this topic. Although she presents the necessary specific facts about each fossil, the emphasis is on the cultural context of the findings and the sociopolitical aspects of the discovery in the years and decades after the original discovery.
|Seven Skeletons: |
The Evolution of the World's Most Famous Human Fossils
The skeletons, each with its own chapter, include “The Old Man of La Chapelle”- 1908 (Homo neanderthalensis), Piltdown Man - 1912 (shown after 40 years to be a fraud), the Taung Child - 1924 (Australopithecus africanus), Peking Man - 1921 (Homo erectus), Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) - 1974, Flo (Homo floresiensis) - 2003, and Sediba (Australopithecus sediba) - 2008. Each of these became to varying degrees “celebrity fossils,” with wide public interest and sociopolitical as well as scientific, importance.
In some cases, the fossils contributed to nationalist stirrings in a nation. For example, the Taung child, discovered in 1924, was the first to establish South Africa as a major player in the early hominid archaeology, in a time when most known hominid discoveries were in Europe. Peking Man put China on the map for such endeavors, as Flo (“the hobbit”) did for Indonesia. Perhaps the greatest national benefit came to Ethiopia after the discovery of Lucy the Afar region in 1974. In all of these cases, especially eastern and southern Africa, these famous discoveries led to intensive further investigations and the discovery of numerous future fossils of profound importance, even if less celebrity.
Sometimes completely unrelated events helped enhance the publicity about one of these skeletal finds. The fact that the small hominid Flo was discovered on Flores Island in eastern Indonesia about the time that the last of “The Lord of the Rings” movies appeared in the early 2000s led to the species being nicknamed “the hobbit,” a label which generated considerably more interest in her than would have otherwise been the case. Lucy was named after the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which was playing at the dig site when she was discovered. Neanderthal was named after the initial specimen’s founding German location in the Neander Valley (“Neanderthal” in German). “Sediba” means “a natural spring” in Sesotho, the southern African language spoken around where it was found.
Source: Manhattan Mercury