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Book review Early Human Kinship From Sex to Social Reproduction.

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Book Reviews
Edited By Nicholas J. Allen, Hilary Callan, Robin Dunbar
and Wendy James. Malden, MA: Blackwell. 2008. 316 pp.
ISBN 978-1-4051-7901-0. $94.95 (hardcover).
What part did kinship play in the long story of our
becoming human? This big question, as Callan notes in
the epilogue of Early Human Kinship, organizes contributions by many authors who rely on various methods,
data, and perspectives. The result of their efforts is a
rich story filled with many interesting ideas but also
with some meandering turns. The book consists of an
introduction, four parts, and an epilogue. The introduction highlights some of the key concepts recurring
throughout the volume under the banner of kinship.
This chapter does a fine job of foregrounding concepts
such as the ways in which evolutionary biologists
employ kinship (degree of relatedness) compared with its
common usage among social anthropologists. A succinct,
current overview of human evolution follows this
Part I consists of two chapters under the title ‘‘Where
and When: Archaeological Evidence for Early Social Life
in Africa.’’ Gamble’s chapter begins with the question of
whether Neandertals married as a means of asking
about kinship systems within a recent evolutionary context. He draws some provocative parallels between material culture and kinship (e.g., how use of containers and
instruments might structure thought). Gowlett’s chapter
briefly reviews the essential features of hominin anatomy, ecology, and especially archaeology that enable
inferences regarding kinship. He acknowledges the limitations of these data but still succeeds in specifying
some relevant hows and whens of hominin kinship
Part II includes four chapters under the title
‘‘Women, Children, Men-and the Puzzles of Comparative Social Structure.’’ The first of these, by Knight,
reviews important historical landmarks in the study of
kinship, particularly with respect to arguments over
matrilineal origins (e.g., Lewis Henry Morgan’s ‘‘primordial horde’’). James gives a concise overview of
alternating birth-generation classes (systems that associate grandparents and grandchildren) in East Africa.
Allen summarizes his ‘‘tetradic theory.’’ This conceptual
model is meant to capture essential features of an original kinship system, including horizontal and vertical
relationships and a contrast between egocentric and
sociocentric kinship perspectives. The final chapter, by
Layton, critiques elements of Allen’s model along with
other models specifying more details of hominin behavioral evolution, particularly those presented in a later
chapter by Opie and Power. He summarizes data
addressing hunter-gatherer mobility and social structure (e.g., fluid, often bilocal bands organized in regional communities).
Part III, ‘‘Other Primates and the Biological
Approach,’’ consists of four chapters. Dunbar introduces
some basic concepts of behavioral evolution related to
C 2009
kinship. Korstkens covers kinship in monkey societies
and discusses topics such as male versus female philopatry, cooperation, cercopithecine matrilineal structures,
and kin recognition. Lehmann’s contribution covers
great-ape kinship. She notes that degree of relatedness
is less important than previously thought, and she
reviews interesting cases of kin recognition and preferential association. Opie and Power’s chapter concludes
this section by presenting data on the energetics of consumption and production that, they argue, suggest that
Homo erectus females relied on support from both grandmothers and mates.
Part IV, ‘‘Reconstructions: Evidence from Cultural
Practice and Language,’’ begins with a chapter by Fortunato on phylogenetic approaches to cultural evolution,
including a case study on the reconstructed history of
dowry versus bridewealth in Eurasia. Ehret’s lengthy
but provocative chapter uses linguistic reconstructions to
infer early marital and kinship patterns within African
language groups. Barnard draws links between the evolution of kinship and language in the past few million
years. Last, Callan’s epilogue brings it all together with
a thoughtful summary of themes and directions forward
in the study of kinship.
The book’s ambitious approach to kinship covers some
important terrain but could be more fluid. Allen’s ‘‘tetradic model’’ is commonly referenced throughout the
volume but poorly integrated within it. Allen himself
dismisses the relevance of nonhuman primate and
archaeological data to his model, whereas other contributors point out the importance of specifying elements of
ecology, reproduction, and more in qualifying it. This
example serves as an illustration of the challenges of
cohesively integrating concepts (tetradic theory) derived
within an isolated intellectual trajectory with those from
a broader intellectual realm (evolutionary theory). For
the story of human kinship to be seamless, we need a
science that employs terms that translate across disciplines and that are consistent across levels of analysis;
the ‘‘tetradic model’’ does not fit that mold. Furthermore,
the book could have been organized slightly differently
to tell the most coherent study. Specifically, moving the
chapters of Part III, ‘‘Primates and the Biological
Approach,’’ to Part I would highlight the broader
phylogenetic context of kinship before homing in on the
Contributors differ in their views of hominin mobility
and descent, even among recent hunter-gatherers.
While Lehmann states that patrilineal descent is most
common among foragers, other contributors emphasize
either fluid, bilateral kinship or matrilineal descent.
These differences of scholarly opinion are similarly
reflected in opposing views of the support for the
‘‘grandmother hypothesis’’ of kin assistance among our
ancestors versus a greater role for males. In such divergences, the authors reflect wider scholarly developments. Readers new to these debates might wish for a
better sense of how to critically evaluate these competing views. Others may find these discrepancies simply
stimulating, perhaps motivating attempts to resolve
In the end, this volume pulls together many interesting contributions to the study of early human kinship
and can serve as a useful reference to interested scholars. The book is suitable for an advanced course devoted
to kinship, but it is otherwise hard to see a student audience for the entire volume, although selected chapters
might be assigned. Perhaps this volume will also inspire
another scholar to write a story of human kinship that is
fully and cleanly integrated within the evolutionary
AND ARCHAEOLOGISTS. By Bradley J. Adams and Pamela J.
Crabtree. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press. 2008. 348 pp. ISBN
978-1-58829-844-7. $129.00 (hardcover).
The primary purpose of this photographic atlas is to
guide experts from various fields through the identification of human and nonhuman bone. In both archaeological and forensic contexts, accurately differentiating
human bone from nonhuman bone is a necessary and
important responsibility. Ability to make these distinctions is directly commensurate with the observer’s level
of experience and the availability of appropriate reference material. The latter includes comparative skeletal
collections and reference books pinpointing the gross
morphological differences between species. Unlike most
reference manuals, which tend to focus exclusively on either human or nonhuman skeletal structures, Adams
and Crabtree include exemplars from both, contrasting
the observable differences in size and shape of the species commonly encountered at archaeological sites and
forensic scenes. As such, Comparative Skeletal Anatomy
combines a much needed synthetic volume for the identification of human and nonhuman remains with a reference manual accessible to practicing forensic scientists,
archaeologists, and biological anthropologists.
Comparative Skeletal Anatomy is divided into three
sections. First, the introductory chapter establishes the
need for a photographic atlas that integrates both
human and nonhuman examples, outlines the authors’
criteria for the selection of faunal species, and introduces
the reader to the anatomical nomenclature used
throughout the book. The second section, and by far, the
bulk of the book, includes Chapters 2–17. These chapters
are arranged by species (largest to smallest) and comprise black-and-white photographs of animal bones side
by side with their human counterparts. Each photograph
includes a descriptive figure caption highlighting the
morphological differences between the human and nonhuman specimens. Chapter 17 is a compilation of miscellaneous human and nonhuman bones. In the final section, Chapter 18, ‘‘Traces of Butchery and Bone Working,’’ Crabtree and Campana discuss various aspects of
modification to human and nonhuman bone, including
modern butchery, prehistoric food processing, and a modern forensic case of dismemberment.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Department of Anthropology and
Ethnic Studies, University of
Nevada-Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21051
Published online 8 April 2009 in Wiley InterScience
Comparative Skeletal Anatomy will be a very useful
resource for correctly identifying human and nonhuman
bone, particularly for those who are not well versed in
skeletal anatomy and human variation. However, the
authors’ caveat that ‘‘An experienced osteologist should
always be consulted for confirmation’’ (p 3) is very important. Animal remains are frequently mistaken for human
remains and they can ‘‘end up in the medical examiner or
coroner system’’ (p 2), where the potential use of this atlas
seems most directed. The inverse scenario—human
remains that are mistakenly identified as nonhuman by
an inexperienced analyst and are discarded from further
analysis—has even greater repercussions, but the implications of this scenario are not fully addressed. This omission is troubling given the intended forensic audience.
The resolution of the photographs in Comparative
Skeletal Anatomy is not always sufficient to identify the
slight differences in morphology between species.
Although the photographs provide enough clarity to establish a presumptive identification, as a photographic
atlas, Comparative Skeletal Anatomy would benefit from
higher-quality photographs. Obviously, the authors could
not include every morphological detail useful for differentiating at the species level; however, more detail on
these differences would have greatly enhanced the book’s
overall impact. Most readers will find the format of Comparative Skeletal Anatomy intuitive, particularly, the
order in which species are presented.
Taken as a whole, Comparative Skeletal Anatomy will
be a valuable resource for any forensic scientist, forensic
anthropologist, or archaeologist working with human
and nonhuman bone. Additionally, students of human osteology, zooarchaeology, and comparative vertebrate
anatomy will find this an extremely helpful reference for
developing their skeletal-anatomy knowledge-base.
Bioarchaeology Division
Statistical Research, Inc.
Tucson, AZ
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21053
Published online 16 April 2009 in Wiley InterScience
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