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Academic & Professional Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution

Kindred Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art

Popular Science
By: Rebecca Wragg Sykes(Author), Alison Atkin(Illustrator), Marc Dando(Illustrator)
408 pages, 8 plates with colour & b/w photos and colour illustrations; 8 b/w illustrations
Breathtaking in scope and beautifully written, Kindred establishes itself as the go-to popular work for a nuanced and current picture of Neanderthals.
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  • Kindred ISBN: 9781472937476 Paperback Aug 2021 In stock
  • Kindred ISBN: 9781472937490 Hardback Aug 2020 Out of Print #238661
Selected version: £11.99
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About this book

Our perception of the Neanderthals has undergone a metamorphosis since their discovery 150 years ago, from the losers of the human family tree to A-list hominins. Spanning scientific curiosity and popular cultural fascination means that there is a wealth of coverage in the media and beyond – but do we get the whole story? The reality of 21st century Neanderthals is complex and fascinating, yet remains virtually unknown and inaccessible outside the scientific literature.

In Kindred, Neanderthal expert Becky Wragg Sykes shoves aside the cliché of the shivering ragged figure in an icy wasteland, and reveals the Neanderthal you don't know, who lived across vast and diverse tracts of Eurasia and survived through hundreds of thousands of years of massive climate change. Using a thematic rather than chronological approach, Kindred will shed new light on where they lived, what they ate, and the increasingly complex Neanderthal culture that is being discovered.

Based on the author's first-hand experience at the cutting-edge of Palaeolithic research and theory, this easy-to-read but information-rich book lays out the full picture we now have of the Neanderthals for the first time, from amazing new discoveries changing our view of them forever, to the more enduring mysteries of how they lived and died, and the biggest question perhaps of them all, their relationship with modern humans.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Breathtaking in scope
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 27 Aug 2020 Written for Hardback

    Whatever mental image you have of our close evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals, it is bound to be incomplete. Kindred is an ambitious book that takes in the full sweep of 150 years of scientific discovery and covers virtually every facet of their biology and culture. Archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes has drawn on her extensive experience communicating science outside of the narrow confines of academia to write a book that is as accessible as it is informative, and that stands out for its nuance and progressive outlook. Is this a new popular science benchmark?

    Two things immediately struck me when I received this book. First, a personal favourite, illustrated end plates! Since Kindred discusses discoveries made at numerous dig sites, there is a map of Europe and part of Asia with their locations. At the back there is a family tree that showing the complex interrelatedness between early Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans. Second, at just shy of 400 pages with the bibliography online (more on that later) and having a larger trim size than usual for a Bloomsbury Sigma title, this is a chunky book.

    The reason soon becomes apparent: Sykes covers a lot of ground in this book. The deeper evolutionary history of our family tree, the history of Neanderthal discovery, skeletal morphology, palaeopathological findings, palaeoclimatological fluctuations, Neanderthal tools made of stone, wood, and bone, their diet, the temporary nature of their home sites as deduced from traces of fireplaces, their migrations, the material traces hinting at a sense of aesthetics, their social and emotional lives, their funerary practices, the ancient DNA revolution, and, finally, the various explanations given for their disappearance. The scope of Kindred is nothing short of breathtaking.

    Part of the reason is that technological advances have led to a veritable explosion in new methods to apply and new kinds of questions to ask. I was familiar with some of these, but many were entirely new to me. The use of computers to fit stone flakes and fragments back together to reconstruct how a piece of stone was made into a tool? The use of laser scanners to document dig sites in exquisite 3D detail? The analysis of the microscopic stratigraphy in soot layers, known as fuliginochronology? The use of isotopes to study where individuals were born and then moved to during their lives? As Sykes remarks, the tools now at the disposal of archaeologists border on science fiction. Most certainly quite beyond the imagination of the pioneers, but even a formidable task for current scientists to keep on top of.

    This avalanche of information and techno-wizardry could have resulted in an inaccessible monolith of a book. There were a (very) few places where I felt Sykes careened into a dense thicket of details, such as when discussing the different lithic techno-complexes – for us mortals, the different styles of stone tools. And she does not always explain technologies – I assume most people will not know what the deal is with ancient DNA or what mtDNA even stands for. By and large, however, this book stands out for being fascinating, accessible, and terribly exciting – this is a golden age for archaeology! Most chapters are just the right length to avoid information overload, while a handful of drawings illustrate tricky concepts.

    The picture that emerges of Neanderthals is that of hominins who are increasingly indistinguishable from early Homo sapiens; inventive, smart, social creatures that survived for a very long time while weathering ice ages and warm periods. This picture is delivered in vivid writing that sometimes borders on lyrical – there were passages where I felt Sykes channelled the voice of deep time: "Amid ancient surfaces densely spangled with myriad artefacts, fireplaces are like archaeological wormholes, bridging the impossible chasms of time separating us from long-vanished dwellers."

    But there is much else in her writing to admire. There are fascinating histories: how some skeletons ended up scattered over different countries, surviving multiple wars before the different body parts were reunited decades later. She reveals how archaeologists used to work and think, and how that has changed. For example, early excavators could not tell the difference between naturally shattered versus intentionally knapped rocks, thus discarding vast bodies of evidence at dig sites without recording them. In some cases, these are now being re-excavated for renewed examination. She repeatedly warns of simplistic interpretations and sexed-up headlines that dominate the news, instead stressing the far more interesting nuances, such as the fantastically complex patterns of population dispersals, influxes, turnovers, and interbreeding revealed by ancient DNA.

    One of Sykes’s side-projects is co-curating the website TrowelBlazers which celebrates the achievements of women in archaeology, geology, and palaeontology. Thus, I expected a certain progressive outlook. Indeed, why should the evidence for interbreeding always be interpreted as rape? Why is “desire and even emotional attachment [...] regarded as more of a fairy tale than other explanations”? But she goes well beyond that, positively surprising me. Such as when parsing the complex and incomplete evidence for cannibalism in Neanderthals. She challenges the reader to consider different ways of interpreting this behaviour. Or by highlighting how Indigenous knowledge from hunter-gatherer communities can offer completely fresh perspectives on the archaeological record. This can illuminate blind spots of Western scientists, whether practical (the identification of tracks in the physical record) or more fundamental (challenging our ingrained tendency to see everything through a lens of dominance, exploitation, and conflict).

    Finally, one decision that might divide opinions. Sykes opens the book explaining why, after careful thought, she did not include citations for claims and statements, focusing instead on the narrative. She has provided a 122-page bibliography online, but unfortunately there is no link between references and what part of the text they are relevant to. Although I understand her reasoning, I have always found the use of superscripted numbers leading to individual notes and references to be a minimally intrusive middle road.

    Though Kindred is not the first book to point towards a certain Neanderthal renaissance, its scope and authoritativeness eclipse what has come before. Whether you wonder what book to start with when new to the topic, or which book to pick if you only have time for one, Kindred is without a doubt the go-to book for a nuanced and current picture of Neanderthals.
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Rebecca Wragg Sykes has been fascinated by the vanished worlds of the Pleistocene ice ages since childhood, and followed this interest through a career researching the most enigmatic characters of all, the Neanderthals. After a PhD on the last Neanderthals living in Britain, she worked in France at the world-famous PACEA laboratory, Universite de Bordeaux, on topics ranging from Neanderthal landscapes and territories in the Massif Central region of south-east France, to examining how they were the first ancient humans to produce a synthetic material and tools made of multiple parts. Alongside her academic activities, she has also also earned a reputation for exceptional public engagement. The public can follow her research through a personal blog and Twitter account, and she frequently writes for the popular media, including the Scientific American and Guardian science blogs. Becky is passionate about sharing the privileged access scientists have to fascinating discoveries about the Neanderthals. She is also co-founder of the influential Trowelblazers project, which highlights women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists through innovative outreach and collaboration.

Popular Science
By: Rebecca Wragg Sykes(Author), Alison Atkin(Illustrator), Marc Dando(Illustrator)
408 pages, 8 plates with colour & b/w photos and colour illustrations; 8 b/w illustrations
Breathtaking in scope and beautifully written, Kindred establishes itself as the go-to popular work for a nuanced and current picture of Neanderthals.
Media reviews

"Important reading not just for anyone interested in these ancient cousins of ours, but also for anyone interested in humanity."
– Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens, The New York Times

"Beautiful, evocative, authoritative. Kindred is a beautifully written exploration of our fast-developing understanding of Neanderthals and their culture and a compelling insight into how modern science is revealing the secrets of an extinct species who, for 350 thousand years before Homo sapiens became dominant, inhabited a world "as wide and rich as the Roman Empire.""
– Professor Brian Cox, Physicist and TV presenter

"Rebecca Wragg-Sykes's fact-packed but highly readable book puts us right with a superbly authoritative guided tour of much new evidence. It's tempting to say. "If you read only one book about the Neanderthals, read this one" – except that if the next 20 years provide as many revelations about our ancestors as the past 20 have done, she will need to produce just as weighty a second volume."
– Richard Morrison, The Times

"Blending cutting-edge science with lyrical storytelling, Rebecca Wragg Sykes paints a detailed portrait of our enigmatic relatives."
– Professor Alice Roberts, anatomist, author and broadcaster

Rebecca Wragg Sykes's book paints a vivid portrait of our adaptable ancient relatives [...] immersive."
– Josie Glausiusz, Nature

"Written with such pleasing, elegant prose, Kindred is a captivating ode to the subtle complexities of palaeoanthropology – the thrill of discovery, the frustrating gaps in the evidence, the tantalising question marks hovering above our favourite ideas. Dr Rebecca Wragg Sykes balances admirable scientific caution with her joyous enthusiasm, and the result is a generous, enthralling history of how we first came to know our ancient cousins, and how we're still getting to know them today."
– Greg Jenner, historian and author

"Kindred is a tour de force. A rich and beautiful synthesis of all that is known about Neanderthal biology and culture, it should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of humanity."
– Dr Tori Herridge, palaeontologist and TV presenter

"Current, compelling, well researched, beautifully written and poetical, Kindred is like no other book you've read on Neanderthals."
– Professr Lee. R. Berger, University of Witwatersrand

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