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Preview Human Origins

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.

    Preface7-106 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
117 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
448 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
799 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
12010 A species with a future and a past
        Inevitable or lucky? – Life’s complexity
        A big, complex brain – Where to from here?
        Future world
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
150    Acknowledgements
    Illustration credits
    Further reading

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