A behind-the-scenes account of the shocking discovery of the skeleton of "Ardi", a human ancestor far older than Lucy – a find that shook the world of palaeoanthropology and radically altered our understanding of human evolution.
In 1994, a team led by fossil-hunting legend Tim White – "the Steve Jobs of palaeoanthropology" – uncovered the bones of a human ancestor in Ethiopia's Afar region. Radiometric dating of nearby rocks indicated the skeleton, classified as Ardipithecus ramidus, was 4.4 million years old, more than a million years older than "Lucy", then the oldest known human ancestor. The findings challenged many assumptions about human evolution – how we started walking upright, how we evolved our nimble hands, and, most significantly, whether we were descended from an ancestor that resembled today's chimpanzee – and repudiated a half-century of palaeoanthropological orthodoxy.
Fossil Men is the first full-length exploration of Ardi, the fossil men who found her, and her impact on what we know about the origins of the human species. It is a scientific detective story played out in anatomy and the natural history of the human body. Kermit Pattison brings into focus a cast of eccentric, obsessive scientists, including one of the world's greatest fossil hunters, Tim White – an exacting and unforgiving fossil hunter whose virtuoso skills in the field were matched only by his propensity for making enemies; Gen Suwa, a Japanese savant who sometimes didn't bother going home at night to devote more hours to science; Owen Lovejoy, a onetime creationist-turned-palaeoanthropologist; Berhane Asfaw, who survived imprisonment and torture to become Ethiopia's most senior palaeoanthropologist and who fought for African scientists to gain equal footing in the study of human origins; and the Leakeys, for decades the most famous family in palaeoanthropology.
An intriguing tale of scientific discovery, obsession and rivalry that moves from the sun-baked desert of Africa and a nation caught in a brutal civil war, to modern high-tech labs and academic lecture halls, Fossil Men is popular science at its best, and a must read for fans of Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, and Edward O. Wilson.
Kermit Pattison is a journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Fast Company, Runners World, and Time, among many other publications. He spent more than half a decade doing research for Fossil Men, a large portion of which was spent in the field in Ethiopia with Tim White's team. This is his first book. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.