Cover image for Lowly origin : where, when, and why our ancestors first stood up
Lowly origin : where, when, and why our ancestors first stood up
Kingdon, Jonathan.
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Publication Information:
Princeton : Princeton University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xx, 396 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
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GN282 .K54 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Our ability to walk on two legs is not only a characteristic human trait but one of the things that made us human in the first place. Once our ancestors could walk on two legs, they began to do many of the things that apes cannot do: cross wide open spaces, manipulate complex tools, communicate with new signal systems, and light fires. Titled after the last two words of Darwin's Descent of Man and written by a leading scholar of human evolution, Lowly Origin is the first book to explain the sources and consequences of bipedalism to a broad audience. Along the way, it accounts for recent fossil discoveries that show us a still incomplete but much bushier family tree than most of us learned about in school.

Jonathan Kingdon uses the very latest findings from ecology, biogeography, and paleontology to build a new and up-to-date account of how four-legged apes became two-legged hominins. He describes what it took to get up onto two legs as well as the protracted consequences of that step--some of which led straight to modern humans and others to very different bipeds. This allows him to make sense of recently unearthed evidence suggesting that no fewer than twenty species of humans and hominins have lived and become extinct. Following the evolution of two-legged creatures from our earliest lowly forebears to the present, Kingdon concludes with future options for the last surviving biped.

A major new narrative of human evolution, Lowly Origin is the best available account of what it meant--and what it means--to walk on two feet.

Author Notes

Jonathan Kingdon is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute of Biological Anthropology and Department of Zoology of Oxford University. He is the author of and artist for numerous books, including Self-Made Man and Island Africa (Princeton). The Millennium issue of American Scientist named Kingdon's Atlas of Evolution in Africa one of the "100 books that shaped a century of science."

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Naturalist-artist Kingdon (Oxford Univ.) is well known for his books on African mammals and his beautiful illustrations of them. This popular science work surveys the past eight million years of human history, with an ecological focus. Beginning with reviews of evolution and human anatomy, early primates, and early apes, Kingdon, surveying Africa of about eight million years ago, suggests that "ground apes" of this time may have foraged for food in a squatting posture, making the most of ape-like long arms and short legs but beginning to change in a human direction. By combining current studies of climate fluctuations with ideas that there were several contemporaneous species or even lineages of early humans over millions of years, he proposes that different major branches of our evolutionary tree evolved in different regions of Africa, partly isolated by geological processes. Later chapters follow the presumed diversity of human varieties (not accepted by all researchers) up to the African origin of modern people who spread out to replace their Neanderthal "cousins." The book is well written and charmingly illustrated (both from a rather personal viewpoint), and although scholars might question the generalizations (while gaining new ideas to ponder), that is what makes science palatable to general readers. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through faculty. E. Delson CUNY Herbert H. Lehman College