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Book review Mothers and others The evolutionary origins of mutual understanding.

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 142:501–505 (2010)
Book Reviews
THE PALAEOLITHIC SETTLEMENT OF ASIA. By Robin Dennell.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2009. 548 pp.
ISBN 978-0-521-61310-1. $95.00 (paperback).
Between 1950 and 2003, the Annual Meetings of the
American Association of Physical Anthropologists did not
include any symposia devoted to the paleoanthropology
of Asia. The fact that such a long time went by without
bringing together specialists of this region reflects the
disproportionately low attention given to Asia despite
the continuous record of systematic research there from
the earliest days of physical anthropology. Robin Dennell’s book fills a similar gap in the literature. Despite a
number of excellent volumes on specific regions within
Asia, there is no comprehensive work that synthesizes
data for the entire continent. Dennell’s career of scholarly research there has allowed him to provide a well
informed and thorough review of the data and major
issues facing researchers there.
The book begins with an excellent description of
Asia’s superlative geographical features: the highest
mountains, lowest places on earth, etc. Dennell
reminds us that the geopolitical definition of Asia differs from the geological one. Therefore, his survey
includes a discussion of the material from Georgia and
Israel, which are technically a part of West Asia. Subsequent chapters are separated into two sections: the
data prior to 1.0 Mya (Chapters 2–6) and from 1.0
Mya to the last interglacial (Chapters 7–11). Chapter 2
reviews the hominin record in Africa prior to 2.5 Mya.
It seems a bit out of place and reads somewhat like a
textbook. Its relevance becomes clear only later in the
volume, when Dennell considers the evidence for the
earliest migrations into Asia. Chapter 3 is a detailed
survey of the paleoclimatological and paleoenvironmental data for the hominin settlement of Asia prior to 1.0
Mya. Dennell synthesizes a wide range of information
for each region of the continent. Overall, it is one of
the most thorough surveys of Asia’s paleoclimate and
paleoenvironment and could stand alone as a useful
resource.
Chapter 4 focuses on Southwest Asia while Chapter 5
reviews the data from South, Southeast, and East Asia.
The coverage is very thorough, and the archaeological
sections for major sites are quite useful. The data from
Asia as a whole are well synthesized at the end of Chapter 5, and it is this kind of broad perspective that makes
the book a unique and useful one. Chapter 6 considers
the theoretical models for the peopling of Asia. Dennell
critiques the ‘‘Out of Africa 1’’ model and provides alternate scenarios. Here, his surveys in previous chapters,
including that of the African Pliocene fossil record,
become more clear and relevant. He ties in a discussion
of dispersal routes with the climatic, environmental, and
paleoanthropological records.
Chapters 7–11 focus on the evidence from 1.0 Mya to
the last interglacial. Dennell’s review of the evidence is
organized much as in the previous section. In Chapter 7,
C 2010
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WILEY-LISS, INC.
Dennell provides a thought-provoking discussion of how
climatic factors shaped the Asian Middle Pleistocene.
Chapter 8 focuses on the major archaeological sites in
Southwest and Central Asia, while Chapter 9 focuses
exclusively on the data from the Indian subcontinent.
This is one of the best written chapters in the book,
reflecting Dennell’s familiarity with the issues. He surveys the history of Paleolithic studies in India, major
archaeological sites, and the evolution in theoretical
approaches that has taken place there over the past 75
years. The chapter is interspersed with his own informed
opinions on debates and developments in the study of
Indian prehistory and is a fine survey of Indian Paleolithic research. Chapter 10 synthesizes the data from
China and Southeast Asia for the Middle Pleistocene
and includes an excellent review of the history of
research at Zhoukoudian and the debates surrounding
the material from this site.
Dennell ends his survey of the East and Southeast
Asian Paleolithic record with a thoughtful and well considered discussion of the Movius Line. Rather than taking its ‘‘truth’’ for granted or, worse yet, taking a dichotomous ‘‘true/false’’ approach, Dennell offers a measured
consideration of its validity. The Movius Line has become
something like the concept of race in my opinion. People
initially accepted its validity and interpreted it to mean
that certain regions were primitive or backwards. Later,
they debated its validity but did not know what to do
with the very real shifting frequencies and regional
differences that were observed in the occurrence of
Acheulean bifaces across Eurasia during the Middle
Pleistocene.
Dennell shifts the nature of the dialogue entirely and
offers a deeper understanding of the issue. Even if there
are virtually no Acheulean bifaces in Asia during the
Middle Pleistocene, he asks, how should we be framing
the question? He notes that the Movius Line has shifted
during the Pleistocene, with the maximum extent of
bifaces prior to 1.0 Mya being along the Dead Sea Valley. He also asks the question from a technological point
of view: What was the function of an Acheulean biface
and could it have been achieved more simply and with
less waste? These pages are must-reads for any student
of paleoanthropology since, too often, Old World prehistory courses cover little else besides this concept when
reviewing the South and Southeast Asian Paleolithic
record.
The final chapter ties together the extensive background information, and Dennell offers his own informed
views of key issues that were raised throughout. He
leaves the reader with important areas for future
research. The book contains four appendices and several
useful tables with information on the location and ages
of most archaeological sites, the dating methods used,
and an inventory of faunal and fossil material, making it
a convenient resource. Other supplemental material is
not as useful, however. The book lacks illustrations that
would effectively summarize the occasionally dense information contained in the text. More high-quality maps
would provide helpful geographic orientation. Furthermore considering the details of the fossil record that are
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reviewed, very few photographs or drawings of key fossils or sites are included. In addition, even though Dennell clarifies at the beginning how he has structured his
review—i.e., separately discussing the record prior to 1.0
Mya and the record from 1.0 Mya to the last interglacial—the organization of the book is still a bit disjointed.
Overall, however, Dennell’s work is a unique and valuable resource for students of Asian prehistory or anyone
who wants a competent synthesis of the Asian paleoanthropological record.
MOTHERS AND OTHERS: THE EVOLUTIONARY ORIGINS OF
MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING. By Sarah Blaffer Hrdy.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2009. 422
pp. ISBN 978-0-674-03299-6. $29.95 (cloth).
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy is one of our most eminent primatologists. She has a particular interest in human evolution, which is exemplified not only in this book but also
in her earlier Mother Nature. In the work under review,
she attempts nothing less than an evolutionary explanation of human empathy using data from primatology and
hunter-gatherer research. Her conclusion is that ‘‘alloparenting’’—shared parental (especially maternal) care—
was the main force in human evolution, antedating even
language and Homo sapiens-sized brains, and that it
enabled mothers to attend to other matters, like foodgetting and having more children. These benefits in turn
selected for ‘‘mind-reading,’’ the remarkable ability,
observable even in infants, to perceive pertinent cues
from potential nurturers and to provide them as adults.
Hence, the human brain is an organ designed largely for
empathy with other people.
Such shared nurturance is absent among the great
apes, our closest living relatives, so the substantial
attention Hrdy pays to the primatological data is at best
tangential. The chief support for her thesis comes, she
believes, from extant human foragers. But her interpretations stretch the ethnographic data. Consider the following: ‘‘The advantage of casting the net of kinship as
widely as possible is presumably why foraging people
are far more likely to trace relatedness through both
mother and father, as opposed to one or the other line,
as is more typical of the matrilineal or patrilineal
descent systems that prevail in nonforaging societies’’ (p.
16). However, even introductory texts on human kinship
point out that the bilateral ‘‘tracing of relatedness’’ is
very nearly universal and that ‘‘matrilineal or patrilineal
descent systems’’ only graft onto this ‘‘net of kinship’’
certain ideologies, themselves extremely variable, which
for certain limited purposes stress accumulations of
mother/daughter or father/son links. Indeed, the point
was made at least as far back as 1920 by Robert Lowie
in his classic Primitive Society. Moreover, the statement
that foragers cast this net as widely as possible is misleading. It is indeed common in such populations, though
by no means confined to them, to posses what Allan Barnard has called ‘‘universal systems of kin categoriza-
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
SHEELA ATHREYA
Department of Anthropology
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21262
Published online 1 April 2010 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
tion,’’ wherein everyone is embraced within the prevailing system of kin classification. But, as I argued in a
2005 article in Anthropological Forum, this nowhere precludes a kin/nonkin distinction any more than does the
notion, closer to home, that, as ‘‘children’’ of a single
God, we are all brothers and sisters.
Hrdy’s notion of alloparenting is by no means free of
such romantic imagery. Thus at one point she interprets women’s well-known ability ‘‘to make, and then to
maintain . . . relationships with other women as an evolutionary attempt to seek ‘sisters’ with whom to share
care of our children’’ (p. 271). But the forager data to
which she appeals, derived largely from Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods (Aldine, 2005), an important book to
which she contributed an essay that is a harbinger of
the present volume, provides little support for this hypothesis. What they show instead is that in such communities by far the most important provider for an
infant is the mother; that allomothers, in their decidedly limited role, are nearly always mother’s sisters,
mother’s mothers, or older sisters and not an undifferentiated collective of women; and that allomothering
becomes really important only when maternal mortality
is especially high.
Among the ‘‘others’’ dealt with in this book are
fathers, and here again their treatment fits better with
certain modes of thought in present-day academia than
with ethnographic reality. Hrdy makes the important
point that the hormonal systems of men in close contact
with a pregnant or recently delivered woman secrete
large amounts of prolactin and other substances that
working as they do against testosterone, incline such
men to be less sexual and aggressive and more nurturant towards infants; as one says these days, they find
the feminine part of themselves. But apart from this
and insemination, Hrdy considers men only as providers. She does not entertain the possibility of a specifically male kind of nurturance, especially in connection
with older children. Indeed, she dismisses David Blankenhorn’s Fatherless America and David Popenoe’s Life
Without Father as doctrinaire advocacies of ‘‘the traditional family’’ (p. 145). But both books in fact contain a
wealth of evidence for the beneficial effects of fatherhood per se, and although the data come from presentday Western societies, there is no apparent reason to
suppose that they do not apply to foragers and perforce
to human ‘‘prehistory’’ as well. So, it seems likely that
we have evolved as a biparental species not just
because men can be allomothers of a sort, or because
they are prepared to provision women in exchange for
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BOOK REVIEWS
sex, but because they somehow play a crucial male role
in the development of both their sons and their daughters. Allomothers replace fathers neither among the foragers considered in Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods nor
those in Aboriginal Australia (as Bronislaw Malinowski
pointed out nearly a century ago in his The Family
Among the Australian Aborigines) nor anywhere else in
the developing world, as Lowie (in Primitive Society)
and then George Peter Murdock (Social Structure)
observed some years later. It is worth noting that none
of these last three books appears in Hrdy’s bibliography.
PRIMATE PARASITE ECOLOGY: THE DYNAMICS AND STUDY
OF HOST-PARASITE RELATIONSHIPS. Edited by Michael A.
Huffman and Colin A. Chapman. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. 2009. 548 pp. ISBN 978-052-187246-1.
$126.00 (hardcover).
Parasites are an amazingly ubiquitous group of organisms, as it is rare to find a free-living organism that does
not support several species of parasites. Indeed, many
parasites depend on a limited set of host species, and
thus a majority of all species on earth are parasites,
causing mortality and lowered fecundity in every population. In human populations, parasites kill and debilitate
millions, as evidenced by the grim statistics on HIV and
Ebola. Even the usual suspects such as malaria and
human schistosomiasis have impacts that are devastating to human wellbeing. Therefore, it is fitting that the
study of parasite ecology and evolution seems to be
slowly assuming the prominence it deserves within the
natural sciences. This edited volume, Primate Parasite
Ecology: The Dynamics and Study of Host-Parasite Relationships, is a welcome contribution to the growing body
of literature on the subject.
The volume brings together 71 contributors to quite
appropriately focus on the effects of parasites and
pathogens on nonhuman primates (primates hereafter).
Because of their close biological relatedness, primates
share many parasites and pathogens with humans.
Therefore, studies of parasites and disease dynamics in
primates have much to offer in understanding and confronting parasitic diseases that afflict humans. Conversely, parasitic diseases can be as devastating to primates as they are to humans. As such, an understanding
of the health effects of parasites on primate populations
is a matter of urgency, because a majority of primates
are already endangered by overhunting and by habitat
loss and fragmentation, factors that often exacerbate the
effects of parasites. Renewed interest in parasites and
diseases has the potential to advance primatological
theory in a significant new way. It was William J. Freeland who first proposed that parasites and diseases, in
addition to resource distribution and abundance, could
be powerful selective forces driving the evolution of
social organization among primates. These are overarching and compelling themes repeatedly emphasized
throughout this book.
WARREN SHAPIRO
Department of Anthropology
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21266
Published online 21 April 2010 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
The volume is logically organized into four parts. Part
I outlines the variety of methods used to study the parasites in primates. Methods included are classic laboratory procedures of microscopy, cutting-edge PCR molecular techniques and endocrine approaches, and theoretical
modeling of disease dynamics. Part II tackles the natural
history of primate–parasite interactions. Here, you will
find an insightful discussion of how parasites find their
hosts, a compelling review of the evolution and adaptation of primate malarias, and a detailed literature
review of primate–parasite zoonoses and anthropozoonoses. Oddly, though, many of the 11 chapters included in
this part properly belong to Part III, ‘‘The Ecology of Primate Parasite Interactions.’’ Unfortunately, this title is a
misnomer; it evokes lofty goals for the chapters, but the
content falls far short.
I was attracted to this book by the promise evoked
by the title that it is a dissertation on primate parasite
ecology. However, I found that the book uses the term
ecology loosely, particularly in Part III. Ecology is commonly understood as the scientific study of how the
interactions between organisms and their environment
determine their distribution and abundance, and a
central tenet of ecology is the understanding of the factors that determine the abundance and distribution of
organisms. Logically, I expected Part III would offer
insights into how parasites influence births, deaths,
and migrations in primate populations. Alas, none of
its seven chapters do so. It is important to emphasize
here that in any discussion of the ecology of host–parasite interactions, harm caused to the host by the parasite—measured in terms of the reduction in the intrinsic growth rate of the host population—is a key consideration. If harm to the host is not evident, then the
ecological association between the parasite and host is
a commensalism, an interaction in which the host benefits the parasite, but the parasite has no good or bad
effects on the host. It is true that every chapter in
Part III offers lucid and compelling hypotheses that
would yield ecological insights, if tested appropriately.
However, in every case, the data presented are too limited to falsify the hypotheses, and none of the studies
had sufficient replication to allow any meaningful generalizations.
Chapter 24 in Part IV is a concluding and compelling
read on how the field of primate disease ecology ought
to develop in the years ahead. The chapter emphasizes
the importance of applying consistent methods to charAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
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BOOK REVIEWS
acterize infections to facilitate cross-study comparisons.
Appropriately, the benefits of applying cutting-edge molecular methods such as real-time PCR and whole-genome sequencing to primate–parasite studies are duly
emphasized, as is the need for models that are spatially
and temporally explicit and that integrate populationlevel processes to guide data collection. The chapter
reminds the reader that although overhunting and habitat loss and fragmentation are widely cited as the
causes of primate population declines, these are merely
proximate factors. The ultimate threats to primates
involve a complex set of interactions, often implicating
parasites, which compromise the resistance and resilience of populations. Given this apt reminder, I was
surprised that the authors did not mention the need for
studies on how these classic threats to primates may
cause ecological cascades that influence primate disease
ecology. For example, numerous studies show that forest loss and fragmentation as well as overhunting of
forest mammals dramatically reduce the abundance
and diversity of forest dung beetles. Now, it is well
known that dung beetle abundance and diversity
strongly influence the rates of dung manipulation in
forests, which lowers the abundance of infective stages
EVOLUTION OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR. By Agustı́n Fuentes. New
York: Oxford University Press. 2009. 300 pp. ISBN
978-0-19-533358-9. $39.95 (paperback).
Ever since Darwin’s placement of humans within
the tree of life, as opposed to distinct from it,
researchers have been making proposals to explain the
evolution of unique aspects of human behavior and
morphology. Fuentes’s text is the latest contribution.
However, instead of adding yet another isolated explanation to the mix, Fuentes takes a comprehensive,
integrative, and historical approach. His goal is to
identify the common themes in the many proposals
previously offered to explain human behavioral evolution and to use these commonalities, plus frequently
overlooked factors, to offer directions for future
research. Fuentes succeeds in providing not only just a
thorough review of the explanations for human behavioral evolution, both past and present, but also an informative commentary on the strengths and weaknesses of each and on the importance of understanding
our evolutionary history.
Fuentes argues for a ‘‘biocultural perspective’’ integrating evolutionary theory, biology, and anthropology
to study the dynamic interaction between biology and
culture. The proposals that he reviews in this book
arise from this perspective, as opposed to an archeological or paleontological one. To provide historic grounding, Fuentes begins by tracing the development of early
proposals for our behavior from Darwin through to the
‘‘Modern Synthesis’’ and the rise of sociobiology
(Chapter 2). He then sets the stage for the remainder
of the volume by summarizing four basic approaches or
theoretical frameworks used to investigate human
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
of directly transmitted parasites. But what does this
mean for the prevalence and richness of gastrointestinal parasites, which are extensively discussed in the
book’s case studies?
In conclusion, I believe that the target audience for
this book, graduate students and academic researchers,
will find it helpful as a source of information on ways of
characterizing parasite infections, the natural history of
primate–parasite interactions, and the way forward for
primate disease ecology in the next few years. However,
I think that the book misses a valuable opportunity to
offer any meaningful insights into the ecology of primate–parasite interactions.
DAVID N.M. MBORA
Department of Biology
Whittier College
Whittier, CA
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21278
Published online 22 February 2010 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
behavioral evolution: human behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, gene–culture coevolution, and memetics (Chapter 3). This chapter is strengthened by the
examples, based on primary literature, that accompany
each of these theoretical approaches. These examples
effectively illustrate how the different research
approaches have been used to address specific questions
about human behavioral evolution. This background
section of the book concludes with a very brief discussion of the major phases of human evolution as they
are known through the fossil and archeological records
(Chapter 4).
The substance of Fuentes’s contribution really begins
with Chapter 5, where he surveys 38 proposals offered
to explain the evolution of different aspects of human
behavior. For each proposal, he provides the main and
secondary references, a brief summary, and a discussion
of main points. However, even more helpful is the discussion of the proposals in the next chapter, where Fuentes
systematically compares various features of all the 38
proposals across six general categories: cooperation, conflict, ecological and environmental pressures, sex and
reproduction, dietary practice and food, and specific
behavior patterns. Among the latter, he includes use of
symbols, language, social pair-bonding, provisioning, and
behavioral flexibility. Fuentes then goes on to highlight
the most prominent commonalities in the proposals, with
intragroup cooperation, intergroup conflict, variable
environments, young having multiple caretakers, and
the use of language, symbols, and tools being the most
common themes. However, I caution that these commonalities reflect research trends and not necessarily
the most plausible explanations for human behavioral
evolution. Fuentes concludes by offering a list of what
he sees as understudied factors that also may have
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BOOK REVIEWS
influenced human behavioral evolution. In Chapter 7,
he presents four additional approaches or theoretical
frameworks from evolutionary biology that may be useful in future investigations, and he then tries to find
commonalities in all the approaches and directions for
future research.
The culmination of all these reviews is Fuentes’s analysis of the commonalities that he previously highlighted
(Chapter 8). For each commonality or promising area of
future research, Fuentes discusses the available fossil,
primate, and ethnographic comparative data that support the proposal, how the proposal is seen from different theoretical approaches, his thoughts on the proposal,
and then, finally, ways in which future researchers
might test the proposal. Fuentes concludes this chapter
with his own proposal for a general framework and timeline of human evolutionary history. He then concludes
the book with a discussion about the difficulties of studying human behavioral evolution and the value of an integrated approach.
The primary weakness of the text is its lack of
grounding in the archeological and paleontological
records. Fuentes’s review of the testability of each proposal highlights the importance of the paleoanthropological record for documenting human evolution, and all
of these proposals must exist within the bounds of this
record. While Fuentes is being faithful to the original
proposals, which do not always incorporate paleoanthropology, a truly integrative approach would give more
primacy to what has actually been documented. Paleoanthropology is critical for establishing when the
behaviors of interest evolved; unfortunately, most of the
proposals reviewed by Fuentes suffer from a lack of
chronology, and even Fuentes’s own proposal jumps
from 2 Mya to 50,000 kya (p. 236). In addition, Fuentes
has overlooked major proposals arising from paleoanthropology [e.g., Klein (1999) The Human Career;
McBrearty and Brooks (2000) The revolution that
wasn’t: A new interpretation of the origins of modern
human behavior. J Hum Evol 39:453.]. The lack of
details about the fossil and archeological records allows
these datasets to be used only when convenient. For
example, the low frequency of proposals that incorporate cooperative hunting is explained as stemming from
the lack of clear archeological information about the
timing of its origins (p. 141). This section goes on to
say that cooperative food sharing is a frequent commonality, and this is to be expected given the archeological
evidence for food sharing (p. 144). However, most
paleoanthropologists would agree that the archeological
evidence for hunting is clearer than is that for food
sharing.
The features list on the book’s back cover suggests
that it targets upper-division undergraduate students.
Given the synthetic nature of the book, it covers a broad
range of material, and instructors will find it to be a valuable resource, especially for references and examples.
Most researchers will also agree. Fuentes’s comparative
and theoretical approach means that the text is an
invaluable reference for previous research that also provides useful insights into new avenues of research that
should be explored. However, unfortunately, the volume
falls short of offering a new model for human behavioral
evolution.
TERESA E. STEELE
Department of Anthropology
University of California-Davis
Davis, CA 95616-8522
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21279
Published online 22 February 2010 in Wiley InterScience
(www.interscience.wiley.com).
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
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