Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind

Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind

by Kermit Pattison


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"Riveting. ... Pattison's uncanny ability [is] to write evocatively about science. ... In this, he is every bit as good as the best scientist writers." —New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice) 

"Brilliant. ... A work of staggering depth." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

A decade in the making, Fossil Men is a scientific detective story played out in anatomy and the natural history of the human body: the first full-length account of the discovery of a startlingly unpredicted human ancestor more than a million years older than Lucy

It is the ultimate mystery: where do we come from? In 1994, a team led by fossil-hunting legend Tim White uncovered a set of ancient bones in Ethiopia’s Afar region. Radiometric dating of nearby rocks indicated the resulting skeleton, classified as Ardipithecus ramidus—nicknamed “Ardi”—was an astounding 4.4 million years old, more than a million years older than the world-famous “Lucy.” The team spent the next 15 years studying the bones in strict secrecy, all while continuing to rack up landmark fossil discoveries in the field and becoming increasingly ensnared in bitter disputes with scientific peers and Ethiopian bureaucrats. When finally revealed to the public, Ardi stunned scientists around the world and challenged a half-century of orthodoxy 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. But the discovery of Ardi wasn’t just a leap forward in understanding the roots of humanity—it was an attack on scientific convention and the leading authorities of human origins, triggering an epic feud about the oldest family skeleton.

In Fossil Men, acclaimed journalist Kermit Pattison brings us a cast of eccentric, obsessive scientists, including White, an uncompromising perfectionist whose virtuoso skills in the field were matched only by his propensity for making enemies; Gen Suwa, a Japanese savant whose deep expertise about teeth rivaled anyone on Earth; Owen Lovejoy, a onetime creationist-turned-paleoanthropologist with radical insights into human locomotion; Berhane Asfaw, who survived imprisonment and torture to become Ethiopia’s most senior paleoanthropologist; Don Johanson, the discoverer of Lucy, who had a rancorous falling out with the Ardi team; and the Leakeys, for decades the most famous family in paleoanthropology.

Based on a half-decade of research in Africa, Europe and North America, Fossil Men is not only a brilliant investigation into the origins of the human lineage, but the oldest of human emotions: curiosity, jealousy, perseverance and wonder. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062410290
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 272,163
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.23(d)

About the Author

Kermit Pattison is a journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Fast Company, and Inc., among many other publications. He spent more a decade doing research for Fossil Men, a large portion of which was spent in the field in Ethiopia with the team that discovered Ardi. This is his first book. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Table of Contents

Introduction T. Rex 1

Chapter 1 The Roots of Humanity 11

Chapter 2 Banned 30

Chapter 3 Origins 36

Chapter 4 The Falsifier 58

Chapter 5 The Farthest Outpost of Humankind 72

Chapter 6 Badlands 94

Chapter 7 The Zipperman's Ash 112

Chapter 8 Under the Volcano 125

Chapter 9 The Whole Thing Is There 133

Chapter 10 A Poison Tree 146

Chapter 11 The Pliocene Restoration 156

Chapter 12 Standing Upright 160

Chapter 13 The Whole World Wants to Know 172

Chapter 14 Trees and Bushes 184

Chapter 15 Voyaging 195

Chapter 16 Mission to the Pliocene 210

Chapter 17 Harvest of Bone 222

Chapter 18 Border Wars 236

Chapter 19 Biting the Hand 256

Chapter 20 In Suspense 259

Chapter 21 Under the Radar 276

Chapter 22 Trouble Afoot 282

Chapter 23 Tête-à-Tête 304

Chapter 24 All That Remains 315

Chapter 25 Spine Qua Non 327

Chapter 26 Neither Chimp nor Human 339

Chapter 27 Skeleton from the Closet 353

Chapter 28 Backlash 365

Chapter 29 Hell Yes 377

Chapter 30 Return to the Zoo of the Unknown 384

Chapter 31 Neither Tree nor Bush 399

Epilogue: Sunset 413

Acknowledgments 423

Notes 429

Bibliography 485

Credits 515

Index 519

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