First in Line


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Tracing Our Ape Ancestry

Tom Gundling

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Despite Darwin’s bold contention in 1871 that the likely ancestor for Homo sapiens was an African ape, the scientific community hesitated for decades before accepting small-brained but bipedal walking “apes” from southern Africa as direct human ancestors. Remains of the australopiths, as these bipedal apes are now called, were first discovered in 1924, yet 25 years passed before the australopiths found their place on the human family tree. This book is the first to document in detail this paradigm shift in paleoanthropology between 1924 and 1950.
Tom Gundling examines a period in anthropological history when ideas about what it means to be human were severely tested. Drawing on extensive primary sources, many never before published, he argues that the reinterpretation of early human fossils came about at last because of changes in theoretical approach, not simply because new and more complete fossils had been recovered. Gundling concludes with a review of the most significant post-1950 events in the field of paleoanthropology.

Tom Gundling is assistant professor of anthropology, William Paterson University of New Jersey.

“Gundling’s work not only illuminates this one important historical situation but also provides an instructive caution to present-day paleoanthropologists as they evaluate other scientists’ ideas and theories. And, Gundling’s conclusions will find echoes in other areas of scientific and intellectual history.”—Andrew Hill, Yale University and Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

"Gundling places the history of an important paleoanthropological thread within a straightforward and well-articulated framework. His book is an original work of sound scholarship."—Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History

"A superb work! First in Line provides an exciting history of the search for the fossil hominid record, and promises to compete successfully with today’s paleoanthropological literature."—Kenneth A.R. Kennedy, Cornell University

ISBN: 9780300180176
Publication Date: July 30, 2011
222 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
12 line illus. + 4 tables