Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution & Anthropology 

The Improbable Primate: How Water Shaped Human Evolution

Popular Science
  • Provides an original and provocative insight in to human evolution
  • Presents a consistent global view of the full reach of hominid development
  • Considers the impact of past climate change on environments and organisms
  • Pulls together the most up-to-date research available

By: Clive Finlayson(Author)

202 pages, 13 b/w photos and illustrations

Oxford University Press

Paperback | Jan 2016 | #223644 | ISBN-13: 9780198743897
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £10.99 $14/€12 approx
Hardback | Mar 2014 | #208728 | ISBN-13: 9780199658794
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £16.99 $22/€19 approx

About this book

Taking an ecological approach to our evolution, Clive Finlayson considers the origins of modern humans within the context of a drying climate and changing landscapes. Finlayson argues that environmental change, particularly availability of water, played a critical role in shaping the direction of human evolution, contributing to our spread and success. He argues that our ancestors carved a niche for themselves by leaving the forest and forcing their way into a long-established community of carnivores in a tropical savannah as climate changes opened up the landscape. They took their chance at high noon, when most other predators were asleep. Adapting to this new lifestyle by shedding their hair and developing an active sweating system to keep cool, being close to fresh water was vital. As the climate dried, our ancestors, already bipedal, became taller and slimmer, more adept at travelling farther in search of water. The challenges of seeking water in a drying landscape moulded the minds and bodies of early humans, and directed their migrations and eventual settlements.

Watch an introduction by the author below:


"Did water make people human? Mr Finlayson certainly makes a convincing case."
The Economist

"The Improbable Primate provides a useful starting point for this next great challenge."



1: The Inverted Panda
2: And the World Changed Forever
3: At the Lake's Edge
4: The first humans
5: Middle Earth: The home of the first humans
6: The Drying World of the Middle Pleistocene
7: The Rain Chasers - Solutions in a Drying World
8: The Exceptional World of the Neanderthal
9: Global Expansion of the Rain Chasers
10: Nature's Driving Force
11: Australia
12: From Lake Chad to Puritjarra and beyond
13: The Improbable Primate Revisited

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Clive Finlayson is a noted expert on the Neanderthals and has been researching their final stand in Gibraltar. He is Director of the Gibraltar Museum and Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto, having trained in Oxford as an evolutionary ecologist. His previous books include Neanderthals and Modern Humans: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective (CUP, 2004) and The Humans Who Went Extinct (OUP, 2009).

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