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Book review Baboon Metaphysics The Evolution of a Social Mind.

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Book Reviews
SOUTH ASIA. By Michael D. Petraglia and Bridget
Allchin. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. 2007.
479 pp. ISBN 1-402-05561-7. $129.00 (hardcover).
This very ambitious edited volume provides the reader
an impressively broad perspective on issues relevant to
the people of South Asia. Contributions concerning initial hominid migrations to the subcontinent, Acheulean
archaeology, and the reconstruction of South Asian populational relationships employing genetic and craniometric data are not unexpected in such a book. Surprisingly,
these chapters are joined by others focused upon historical linguistics, domestication of livestock, and the origins
of caste, demonstrating a breadth of research foci, data,
and approaches not normally encountered in most edited
volumes. By bringing together such diverse research, the
editors were successful in producing ‘‘a new ‘crossroads’
of understanding’’ (p. vii) the populational histories of
South Asia.
As a paleoanthropologist, however, the overriding
emotion that I experienced while reading this book was
frustration. This was the fault of neither the editors nor
the contributors but rests squarely on the paucity of
direct evidence bearing on our species’ evolution in the
region. The Indian subcontinent has produced only one
premodern hominid fossil: the Narmada partial cranium
found in 1982 and most recently dated to *236 ka.
Although this fossil was the focus of one of the volume’s
19 chapters, an excellent and compelling analysis by
Sheela Athreya, I found it ironic that the book was published in Springer’s Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology Series, since it has very little paleoanthropological content.
The book is divided into three parts, and for the
readers of AJPA, these sections may correspond to descending levels of relevance and/or interest. Part I,
‘‘Setting Foundations,’’ includes six chapters investigating the earliest evidence of hominid presence in the
region as revealed by paleontological, paleolandscape,
archaeological, and paleoanthropological data. These
contributions provide the primary focus of my review.
The second section, ‘‘The Modern Scene,’’ comprises the
next four chapters. Two of these employ modern genetic
(Endicott et al.) and craniometric (Stock et al.) data in
reconstructing the relationships of South Asian populations, while a third (James) attempts to track the emergence of modern human behavior in the region.
Although effective, all three suffer in my opinion from
their stated acceptance of the replacement model of
modern human origins. Examples include James’s
assumption that Neandertals were incapable of behaving in a ‘‘modern human’’ fashion (p. 202) and the omission by Stock et al. (pp. 245, 247) of alternative genetic
interpretations by researchers such as Relethford and
Templeton, whose work provides strong evidence
against a complete replacement of ‘‘archaics’’ by
‘‘modern humans.’’ The fourth chapter in this section
(Jones) provides a fascinating look at the Toba supervolcanic eruption that wreaked regional and perhaps
C 2008
global havoc 74,000 years ago. This event scarred
northern Sumatra with a caldera 100 km long and 30
km wide! Part III, ‘‘New Worlds in the Holocene,’’
includes seven chapters, with the first by John Lukacs
being the most relevant to this journals’ purview. In
this contribution, Lukacs uses skeletal data to show
that the earliest Holocene inhabitants of the region
were rather tall hunter-foragers, who were largely
unafflicted by the health deficits manifested in later
groups that had transitioned to agriculture.
As mentioned earlier, Indian paleoanthropology can be
a lesson in frustration. The dearth of fossil evidence
could be understood and accepted if the subcontinent
were a geographic cul-de-sac, an evolutionary dead end.
But what is maddening is the near universal consensus
that although early hominids must have traveled
through this region on their way to the well-documented
fossil sites of East and Southeast Asia, they left virtually
no sign of their passage. The first two chapters of this
book illuminate this problem and provide some possible
explanations. Turner and O’Regan posit a ‘‘coastal
exploiter’’ adaptation for Homo erectus dispersing out of
Africa. Employing analogs of other large-bodied, terrestrial mammals that are known to utilize on- or nearshore marine resources and a number of coastal archaeological sites, the authors build a plausible scenario in
which H. erectus enters Asia via coastlines. The flat, linear topography of the coasts would favor relatively rapid
movement, and their clear sight lines would reduce the
success of predator attacks. Although occasionally bountiful, the general unpredictability of shoreline resources
would serve to keep the hominids on the move. Unfortunately, the rise of sea levels during interglacial periods
(such as we find ourselves in now) has drowned these
paleocoastlines, and the evidence of hominid migrations
they may have contained, under hundreds of feet of
In the following chapter, Robin Dennell explains why
Early Pleistocene occupation of northern India and Pakistan was ephemeral, at best, and why peninsular India
was not successfully inhabited by hominids until the
Middle Pleistocene. Dennell suggests that the silt-laden
flood plains of the Indus and Ganges river systems were
poor sources of lithic raw material, thus hindering early
hominid exploitation of animal resources and limiting
their mobility and, ultimately, their capability to permanently occupy the region. Only after the geological
uplifts of the Middle Pleistocene and the subsequent
wider availability of stone were hominids able to sustain
occupations in the subcontinent, as evidenced by the
much higher density of Acheulean sites dating to this
Was Homo heidelbergensis responsible for the Acheulean industries of India? Sheela Athreya’s innovative
and sophisticated multivariate analysis of the Narmada
cranium implies that it was not. Although relatively
large brained and geologically young, the Narmada specimen is most comfortably accommodated in H. erectus,
owing to its morphological and geographic intermediacy
between the African and East/Southeast Asian demes of
this broadly distributed paleospecies. Athreya’s chapter
concludes with a speculation on the biological reality of
H. heidelbergensis and suggests that, like its nomenclatural predecessor archaic H. sapiens, this binomial is
also deserving of the taxonomic scrap heap.
I would recommend this volume for advanced students
and professionals interested in South Asian prehistory.
It is appropriately illustrated, competently produced,
and attractively presented. My hope is that this book
will stimulate current and future scholars to devote
themselves to prehistoric discovery on the vast and important, yet still largely unknown, Indian subcontinent.
APPLICATIONS. Edited by Michael Crawford. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. 2007. 476 pp. ISBN
0-521-54697-4. $65.00 (paper).
Although not the ‘‘Father’’ of anthropological genetics,
Mike Crawford has certainly earned the title ‘‘Chairman
of the Board of Trustees’’ of this synthetic, academic discipline. Since 1973, he has edited (or coedited) five books
and two special issues of the journal Human Biology
devoted to various aspects of the history, theory, methods, application, current status, and future trajectory of
this field of inquiry. The term ‘‘anthropological genetics’’
was first used by Derek Roberts in a lecture to the Royal
Anthropological Society published in 1965. In the 1970s
and 1980s the discipline was formalized as a separate
entity focusing on population structure, genetic-environmental interactions in complex traits, human evolution
from a broad biocultural perspective, and non-Western,
reproductively isolated populations as preferred subjects.
All of these core topics and more are abundantly represented in this latest volume, which, regrettably, Dr.
Crawford states will be his last effort in this important
series of publications that have essentially defined the
field of anthropological genetics.
After a historical introduction, the current compendium is divided into four major sections. Part 1,
‘‘Theory,’’ contains two chapters. The first addresses the
apportionment of genetic diversity and human racial categories, while the second explores gene mapping and
genetic epidemiology. Part 2, ‘‘Methods,’’ has five chapters ranging in content from field research to demography, evolutionary forces and molecular markers, quantitative traits, and ancient DNA. Part 3, ‘‘General Applications,’’ with three chapters, describes current
technologies used in forensics, molecular fluorescence
studies, and the mapping of genes associated with quantitative trait variation. The final section, Part 4, ‘‘The
Human Diaspora,’’ includes five chapters, although Harpending’s final chapter on the present and future of anthropological genetics should probably stand alone just
as Crawford’s introductory historical chapter did. The
other four diaspora chapters chronicle our African origin(s) and subsequent colonizations of Europe, Oceania,
and the Americas. Unfortunately, the author who was to
have contributed the chapter on Asia, the key migratory
crossroads for the human global expansion, defaulted too
late for a replacement to be found. The originally
planned treatments of primate molecular genetics and
behavioral genetics were omitted for the same reason.
The book’s intended audience is advanced undergraduate and graduate students. As is often the case with
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20843
Published online 29 April 2008 in Wiley InterScience
edited volumes, chapters vary considerably in level of
sophistication, mathematical details, depth of topical
coverage, and overall quality. Especially useful information for students can be found in Crawford’s discussion
of the realities of field research in today’s increasingly
politicized world (Chapter 4). This chapter also presents
a concise introduction to the enormously successful and
diverse field research program carried out by Dr. Crawford and his associates, spanning both four continents
and four decades. Other chapters that deserve special
mention for both quality of content and execution
include Chapter 3 by Terwilleger and Lee on the intersection of anthropological genetics and genetic epidemiology in the context of human gene mapping; Chapter 7 by
Relethford on quantitative traits; Chapter 8 by O’Rourke
on ancient DNA; Chapter 12 by Tiskoff and Gonder on
human origins; Chapter 13 by Arrendi and colleagues on
the peopling of Europe; and Chapter 14 by MatisooSmith on the peopling of Oceania. The statistically more
demanding treatment of quantitative trait loci (QTL)
mapping, emphasizing variance component linkage
methods, by Blangero and colleagues contains much useful bibliographic information on common complex diseases and will reward those who persevere. Harpending’s controversial final chapter is vintage, provocative
Henry Harpending: some readers will smile while nodding their heads in approval; others will scream and perhaps rant and rave more than a bit. In any case, his
musings on the present status and future trajectory of
anthropological genetics are a must-read. Some of his
predictions, in his delegated capacity as an author of
‘‘science fiction,’’ will have profound implications for
human society—if they turn out to be accurate! Many sacred cows seemingly wandered from their protective,
politically correct pasturage into a bull ring. For
instance: Will ‘‘the whole Boasian edifice . . . soon come
crashing down’’ (p. 463)? Will groups be confirmed to differ in intelligence as individuals certainly do (p. 464)?
And will anthropological geneticists finally stop repeating the mantra that alleged group differences in cognitive and behavioral propensities have nothing to do with
gene differences (p. 463)?
The recent book that most closely shares overall topical coverage with the Crawford volume is the superb
2004 textbook, Human Evolutionary Genetics: Origins,
Peoples and Disease written by Jobling, Hurles, and
Tyler-Smith. Although it abundantly displays the
expected sophisticated color graphics of a cutting-edge
textbook, there are also many informative black and
white figures and tables scattered throughout the Crawford book. Unfortunately, the stylistic flow and consistent
writing quality evidenced by the three-author endeavor
make the edited volume with 25 contributing authors
seem somewhat jarring in comparison. If I were teaching
a lecture-based survey course in human evolutionary/anthropological genetics, I would prefer the textbook; however, a seminar on selected aspects of anthropological
genetics could profitably adopt the Crawford volume.
It is customary to pick a few nits near the end of a
review, but I will resist the temptation . . . a strong temptation to be sure, because there are too many distracting
glitches. There are factual genetics errors, wrong dates,
incorrect references, incorrect equations, misleading
explanations, and important historical omissions, as well
as typographic and grammatical errors scattered
throughout the book. Also, there are a few weak chapters that will require substantial supplementation by an
instructor. Overall, however, it is far more appropriate to
end on a distinctly positive note because this is, indeed,
Dorothy L. Cheney and Richard M. Seyfarth. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press. 2007. 358 pp. ISBN 0-22610243-2. $27.50 (cloth).
He who understands baboon would do more towards
metaphysics than Locke.
Charles Darwin, Notebook M
Unlike Raymond Corbey’s The Metaphysics of Apes,
which came out the same year, Baboon Metaphysics
responds directly to Darwin’s challenge with a focus not
on the metaphysics of humans but on the metaphysics of
baboons: what baboons know, what they understand,
and how that knowledge and understanding position
them in the natural world. Baboon Metaphysics is an
enjoyable and engrossing read, and its tone is one of fascination with the social nature of baboon behavior. The
intended audience is clearly broad, and the book is correspondingly heavy on references to popular culture and
light on scientific jargon and statistics. Like most semipopular books, this one frequently paints baboons with
an anthropomorphic brush, but this is part of its appeal.
Baboons are described as being intriguingly similar to
humans in all the ways that primatologists have long
recognized but especially with regard to their social complexity and knowledge.
The majority of the data discussed in the book derive
from a troop of chacma baboons (Papio hamadryas ursinus) inhabiting the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana’s
Okavango Delta. Unstated but implied is that the book
is a synthesis of work at Moremi, where the authors
based their research for 15 years. As such, it does for
baboons what their earlier volume, How Monkeys See
the World (1990), did for vervets. Like that book, this
one does not simply review the literature for a species
but instead uses that species as a vehicle to gain insight
into the social mind.
In the unlikely case that any readers of this journal
are unaware of the authors’ earlier work, their methods
center on carefully designed, painstakingly executed
vocalization playback experiments. The knowledge and
understanding of the experimental subjects are discerned by interpreting their reactions to calls played
a good compilation that provides many stimulating summaries highlighting the incredibly diverse subject matter
of anthropological genetics. It also represents a fitting
conclusion to Dr. Crawford’s editorial legacy as caretaker
of this wide-ranging interdisciplinary endeavor. His colleagues and students who have learned so much from
him owe him a great debt of gratitude. Thanks, Mike,
for a job well done!
Department of Anthropology
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20845
Published online 29 April 2008 in Wiley InterScience
from a hidden speaker. This technique, previously used
on birds and adapted by the authors for monkeys, has
been their signature method for decades and has proven
to be remarkably informative about the minds of the animals they study. Because each experiment involves the
recording and archiving of spontaneously given calls followed by call calibration (to match playback conditions)
and playback under a variety of situations that may
take weeks to materialize, one playback experiment can
take over a year to execute. Had the authors done all of
this work themselves, they would have been absent from
their day jobs at the University of Pennsylvania for over
a decade. Rather, their experiments at Moremi were all
designed in collaboration with a series of postdoctoral
scholars, and most of the on-the-ground work was conducted by the postdocs and their partners.
The book is organized into two main sections: Chapters 1–5, which introduce metaphysics and baboons, and
Chapters 6–12, which explore various aspects of cognition and communication. The book in its entirety would
be excellent fodder for a graduate seminar, and Chapters
6–9 would be suitable to assign as topical reviews to students at the undergraduate or introductory graduate
Chapter 8, ‘‘Theory of Mind,’’ is the most extensive
and informative chapter; in it, the authors summarize
and simplify an enormous and contentious literature. As
might be expected, this chapter provides more evidence
for the absence of theory of mind in baboons (and even
great apes) than for its presence. Throughout the book,
anecdotes complement the experimental results. Here,
the most striking descriptions are those of female
baboons drowning their own infants when crossing deep
water because they don’t realize that the infants on their
bellies cannot breathe, or ignoring the calls of their juvenile offspring stranded on a nearby island during a flood.
One imagines that if there were any selection for mental
mechanisms such as theory of mind, it would be for the
ability to attribute mental states to one’s own offspring
in order to keep them alive!
The culmination of the authors’ arguments comes in
Chapter 11, where they tie primate cognition to the evolution of language. Here, they use research on animal
communication to support the argument that social
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
intelligence was the prime mover in human linguistic
evolution. Although monkeys show little evidence of
theory of mind, and their vocal production is limited in
scope, flexibility, and syntactical structure, they show remarkable perceptual abilities, particularly with regard to
social knowledge and semantic representation. Using
Jerry Fodor’s ‘‘language of thought’’ (The Language of
Thought, 1975), the authors argue convincingly for precursors to language in nonhuman animals. The conclusion of this chapter is clear: sociality has played a key
role in language evolution.
Ironically, some of the most convincing evidence presented in the book is that supporting the cognitive abilities of animals other than primates. I found the ability
of pinyon jays and great tits to remember and recognize
ranked lists and use transitive inference to be quite
humbling to my primate-centric worldview. Even more
so was the revelation that domestic dogs seem to make
stronger connections between seeing and knowing than
do chimpanzees. As pointed out by the editors of another
recent volume (Comparative Vertebrate Cognition: Are
Primates Superior to Non-primates? Lesley J. Rogers
and Gisela Kaplan, eds., 2003), examples such as these
must play a role in any discussion of primates’ ‘‘unique
abilities.’’ At the end of Chapter 7, the authors propose
several cognitive abilities that may, in fact, distinguish
monkeys (and apes) from other animals. However, as the
authors point out, all of these purported differences are
based on an absence of relevant data on nonprimates
rather than any data showing that nonprimates actually
lack these abilities.
Many who have published on the behavioral ecology of
olive, yellow, or chacma baboons will be disappointed
that the literature cited in this book is heavily weighted
towards Moremi and Amboseli, the two longest running
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
‘‘savanna’’ baboon research sites. Chapters 2–5 also contain numerous generalities about baboon behavior that
do not apply to all savanna baboons, let alone non-savanna baboons such as the hamadryas. However, only
someone well versed in the baboon literature will notice
these omissions, and, to be fair, distinctions among baboon subspecies and populations are not terribly relevant to the aims of the book as a whole. From a broader
perspective, the fact that most of the literature cited
derives from Moremi and Amboseli highlights the incredible value of these study sites to the scientific community. The authors deserve tremendous kudos for managing to keep Moremi well funded for so long and for producing such a rich, informative data set from a single
study troop.
Baboon Metaphysics is a focused summary and analysis of cognition in baboons and other social animals
with an explicit emphasis on elegant experimental
research conducted by the authors and their collaborators. It is not a book about baboons in particular, but a
book about social cognition that happens to focus on
baboons. What is clear from this book is that baboon
cognition is richer than strict behaviorists would have
us believe. What is unclear is whether baboon cognition
is any more sophisticated than that of other highly
social animals.
Queens College-City University of New York
New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology
New York, New York
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20861
Published online 13 June 2008 in Wiley InterScience
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