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Bones of contention. Controversies in the search for human origins. By Roger Lewin. New York Simon and Schuster. 1987. 348 pp. figures notes index. $19

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Roger Lewin. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1987. 348 pp., figures, notes, index.
$19.95 (cloth).
Bones of Contention is a well-written and
even-handed portrayal of several of the great
controversies of paleoanthropology. Lewin
has chosen a series of topics that center
around the interpretation of the origin of
hominids or Homo. These include controversies over the Taung child, ramapithecines as
hominids, the KBS tuff dates and early
Homo, and the importance of Australopithe
cus afarensis. His point in so doing derives in
part from Misia Landau’s thesis that paleoanthropology’s explanations of the origin
of humans or hominids incorporate a number
of aspects akin to the “hero myth” of Western literature. This similarity is most visible
in early works by people such as Henry Fairfield Osborn and Grafton Elliot Smith. Lewin
goes on to say that, although modern workers no longer couch their stories in the same
terms, nonetheless even scientific description is overlaid with the individual’s deeply
felt beliefs about human evolution.
The first controversy that Lewin examines
is that surrounding Dart’s announcement of
the Taung child. Interwoven with this are
summaries of the relevance of the Piltdown
hoax and Boule’s interpretation of the La
Chapelle Neanderthal remains. The second
topic concerns the interpretation of Ramapithecus as a hominid. It includes a discussion
of the role that molecular biology and, to a
lesser extent, new fossils and reinterpretation played in changing views of the systematic relationships of Miocene hominoids and
the earliest hominids.
The next two chapters differ somewhat in
being organized around individuals rather
than ideas. The first is about Louis Leakey
and his search for early hominids or Homo.
Lewin briefly discussed Leakey’s interpretation on Kenyapithecus, Kanam and Kanjera,
Zinjanthropus, and, of course, Homo habilis.
The second of these biographical chapters is
devoted to Richard Leakey and is concerned
primarily with Homo habilis, although it also
spends some time on the much publicized
Leakey-Johanson feud (which surfaces several times in this book).
The next section is a methodical and extremely detailed accounting of the KBS tuff
dating: Finally, the last major controversy
detailed here concerns “Lucy” and involves
such issues as the distinctiveness of A. afarensis, its place in human evolution, and the
correctness of its name, as well a s the personal disputes over both the species and the
The final chapter briefly talks about early
anthropologists’ views of humanity, races,
and how we became human. This chapter is
more schematic than most-especially when
Lewin talks about recent changes in world
view and their effect on anthropological theory-and is, therefore, in places unsatisfying.
At first, one fears that a book the main
goal of which is to demonstrates how subjective paleoanthropology is will be difficult to
read or stomach. Instead, Lewin has done a n
excellent job of presenting the different sides
of these issues and of letting the principal
researchers speak for themselves. He seems
to have interviewed nearly everyone connected with the topics he discusses, and their
comments are freely (and skillfully) woven
into the text. Much of the ground he covers
will be broadly familiar to many readers, but
the researchers’ comments on their own and
other’s work gives fresh insight into these
problems. This makes for fascinating reading
in most cases, although the 60+ pages devoted to the dating of the KBS tuff are less
than gripping at times.
There are a few aspects of the book I find
troubling. Lewin’s format (which is excellent) is to present a problem, document argument surrounding it, and discuss the
resolution. Surely in this resolution we come
closer to the truth, but any positive results
to all this controversy are ignored. This leads
into a larger problem that is not of Lewin’s
making. This book could well serve as leverage for creationist attacks on evolution. This
does not mean that we can, or should, discount this valuable book, merely that I fear
it will have a n unexpected and adverse effect
on the creationism issue.
A lesser point is that in the last chapter
Lewin briefly discusses the fact that racism
was part of the mindset of early anthropologists. It is unfortunate that this issue is
brought up so briefly, without the thorough
documentation of earlier topics. Biological
anthropologists, including those interested in
human evolution, were instrumental in arguing against the “race concept” in the 1960s
and 1970s, and, in all fairness, this should
have been addressed.
Overall, however, this book presents a fascinating insight into the workings of paleoanthropological research. To a large
extent, it presents the “great man” view of
paleoanthropology, although that makes for
interesting reading. The book itself is a n
“easy read’ and one of the few books on the
subject accessible to the public at large. It is
essential for anyone working in or teaching
human evolution. Lewin has brought out into
the open some of the problems that necessarily face the field of paleoanthropology. This
book should make any biological anthropolo-
gist reassess hidher theories and wonder how
much they are based on facts and how much
on underlying views about how the world
Department of Anthropology
Queens College, CUNY
Flushing, New York
potential uses of restriction fragment length
Edited by D.F. Roberts and G.F. Stefano. polymorphisms for detailing population diCambridge: Cambridge University Press. versity (e.g., heterozygosity) and as markers
1986. xi + 286 pp., figures, tables, index. for genetic diseases are clearly discussed by
Cooper and Schmidtke. Mitochondria1 DNA
diversity is examined in three separate paThis edited volume is the result of a sym- pers. Cann succinctly outlines the general
posium, sponsored by the International characteristics and uses of mtDNA in examUnion of Biological Sciences, which was held ining human diversity and origins. More spein Frascati, Rome, in 1985. The meeting fo- cifically, Stoneking, Bhatia, and Wilson
cused on human genetic variation in the examine mtDNA diversity in the Eastern
tropics, as the subtitle of this book implies. Highlands of Papua New Guinea while
In some instances the volume can be viewed Bond-Tamir and Cavalli-Sforza discuss the
as a continuation and update of some of the value of mtDNA in population divergence
research initiated over two decades ago un- studies, using two groups from Israel in a n
der the auspices of the International Biologi- illustration of the technique.
cal Program on tropical populations. As the
The second section is a loose collection of
editors state, however, it is not intended to nine articles that discuss genetic variation in
be a comprehensive review of work in prog- selected tropical populations scattered across
ress, but to illustrate what has recently been the world. Hemoglobinopathies and malaria
done and what could be accomplished in the are accorded prominent positions, as would
be expected, in a number of these contribufuture.
The contributions are organized into three tions (selections by Kirk; Jenkins and Rammajor sections: 1)Genetic Diversity-Its Di- say; and Labie et al.). Of particular interest
mensions; 2) Genetic Diversity-Its Origin and importance is the paper by Labie et al.,
and Maintenance; and 3) Genetic Diversity- which examines variability in expression of
Applications and Problems of Complex Char- HbS homozygosity and evidence showing
acters. Sadly, the articles are not of uniform that the mutation arose independently in at
quality, and a number are simply rehashes least three distinct geographical areas in Afor short summaries of works that have al- rica. Admixture, colonization, and populaready appeared elsewhere in similar, but tion structure in Central America are
examined in two articles, one by Crawford
more detailed, form.
The first section begins with a n interesting and the other by Battistuzzi et al. Three other
paper by Roberts that outlines the history of papers discuss such topics as gene frequency
the discovery of genetic polymorphisms. This variation in the Congo (Spedini et al.), conarticle sets the stage for the other contribu- sanguinity and the incidence of genetic distions that enumerate specific techniques for eases in South India (Bittles et al.), and
examining genetic polymorphisms. Selected genetic diversity at the albumin locus and
papers detail such aspects as improved iso- bilirubin binding differences in humans and
electric focusing methods and chromosome rhesus macaques (Lorey and Smith). Also inpolymorphisms (C-, Q-, and G-bands; fragile cluded in this section is a short review article
sites; and nucleolus organizer regions). The by Jorde outlining techniques for examining
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