How did we end up here with over seven billion of us straining the planet to its limits?
Human Origins provides a richly illustrated and comprehensive narrative of our deep past – tracing out the major events from the big bang to the present with an emphasis on the last million years.
The latest evidence from fossil bones, stone tools, artefacts and ancient DNA reveals how diet, past climate and landscape shaped many of the features that make us human.
Did our species originate in the southern coastal region of South Africa as groups, isolated and under pressure, incorporated seafood into their diet for the first time?
Do the first appearances of symbolic artefacts at the far northern and southern tips of Africa indicate that these areas served as the initial engine rooms of our cultural revolution?
How did control of fire initiate behaviours that farming and the Industrial Revolution would amplify to propel us, the human ‘superorganism’, to where we find ourselves to today?
Ours is a deep, complex, incomplete and highly contentious history, but one that can enlighten us as to who we are and where we might be headed…
“John S. Compton’s Human Origins opens to us the ‘big history’ shaping the Universe’s violent arc through deep geological time, integrating advances in archaeology, climatology and genetics to explain our journey from the Big Bang to a planet and species facing an uncertain future.”
“Focusing on the last million years and the origins of our species, this book relates our evolution to geological and climatic changes. Professor Compton’s prose displays surefooted elegance as it steps lightly across the complex tapestry of time to leave large, indelible footprints on its readers’ minds. Tracing our deep history through the latest, most up-to-date research in many fields of scientific endeavour, Human Origins is an immensely rewarding read for laypeople as well as a reference for scholars.”
Click on the preface and chapters in the Table of Contents below for an in-depth preview. Read or download these files as PDFs.
|Preface||7-10||6 Seafood and our speciation|
The first thousand days – The seafood diet
A love of salt and a need for iodine
The oldest seafood supper – A speciation
scenario – Behaving modern – Mind the gap
|1 Abiotic to animal |
In the beginning – Planet Earth – First life
Microbial world – Algal world – Animal world
|11||7 Our long, slow cultural evolution|
The rise of symbolism – Cultural preferences
Written symbols – Selecting for symbolism
Selecting for skilful hunters
Techno-complexes of southern Africa
Microliths and the bow and arrow
Modern hunter-gatherers emerge
|2 Endless forms most beautiful|
The Cambrian explosion – Darwin’s theory
Your inner fish – Onto dry land
Age of reptiles – First mammals
Age of mammals – Primates – Apes
|44||8 Conquering the world|
Africa uncorked – A passage out
Ancient reunions – The Great Expansion
To the East – Into Europe – The Americas
African roots – Stone Age cultures
|3 Breaking human|
Walking on two legs – The australopiths – Stone tools
First humans – A big brain – Control of fire
Bodies forged by fire – Behaviours forged by fire
The Acheulean brand – Out of Africa
|79||9 Our dominion|
Before farming – The first farmers
Farmers disperse – Civilisations
The Industrial Revolution – Human world
|4 Out of an unsettled world|
An unsettled world – Homo erectus evolves
Thrusting spears – Can we talk? – Out of Africa II
Our predecessor – Javelins – Colour me red
|120||10 A species with a future and a past|
Inevitable or lucky? – Life’s complexity
A big, complex brain – Where to from here?
|5 African cradle|
ETA – A new species – Where did we evolve?
Regions of origin – Northern tip of Africa
Southern tip of Africa – African interior
A complex speciation – Engine rooms of our evolution
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