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Book review The Evolution of Thought Evolutionary Origins of Great Ape Intelligence.

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Book Reviews
GREAT APE INTELLIGENCE. Edited by Anne E. Russon
and David R. Begun. New York: Cambridge University
Press. 2004. 384 pp. ISBN 0-521-78335-6. $110.00
A focus on brain evolution and complex cognition in
humans and their closest relatives is not necessarily
scientific narcissism, since this feature is clearly one of
our signal adaptations. So just when in ape and human
evolution did these cognitive advancements occur, and
why? These questions are addressed in this recent
volume, an interesting edited collaboration between a researcher in ape behavior and cognition (A. Russon) and
a hominoid paleontologist (D. Begun). This unusual
union emerged from a belief that only by moving beyond
the traditional realm of ape cognitive behavioral studies
could an accurate picture of the evolutionary origins of
great ape intelligence be generated.
The diverse contributions in the book are arranged into
three areas: 1) cognition in living great apes, 2) modern
great ape adaptations, and 3) fossil great ape adaptations.
Topics covered include the obvious foundational one of the
broad range of cognitive and neuroanatomical characteristics of living apes (Russon, Byrne, Parker, Blake, and
MacLeod), plus great ape social systems (Van Schaik et al.
and Preuschoft and Watts), dietary adaptations in living
(Yamagiwa) and extinct (Singleton) apes, complex feeding
techniques in extant apes (Yamakoshi), locomotor behaviors in living (Hunt) and extinct (Gebo) apes, and lifehistory studies in living (Ross) and extinct (Kelley) apes.
These chapters are complemented by explicit phylogenetic
analyses (Begun, and Begun and Kordos), a chapter on
paleoenvironmental influences (Potts), and a discussion of
body size and intelligence in hominoid evolution (Ward,
Flinn, and Begun). The editors collaborate on introductory
and concluding integrative chapters. All in all, anyone
interested in the evolutionary and phylogenetic contexts of
ape and human brains will find many interesting analyses
and much lucid discussion in this book, and the editors
and other contributors are to be commended for an important effort.
The comparative analyses which predominate in these
chapters are set up to investigate the possible role of the
preceding inputs in explaining the high ‘‘intelligence’’ of
the extant great apes. Previously suggested hypotheses
of relatively simple locomotor and dietary influences on
the origins of great ape cognition are effectively dispelled
here (e.g., Hunt’s discussion of the arboreal hypothesis
by Povellini and Cant, and respective reviews by Singleton and Yamigiwa of hominoid fruit-eating scenarios).
The original ‘‘social intelligence’’ hypothesis is also found
wanting (Van Schaik et al.). Other more complex and
multivariate scenarios of the causes of hominoid cognition are both critiqued and refined. Life-history analysis
is thoughtfully discussed by Ross, and particular subcomponents of complex social organization and behaviors
are elucidated by Van Schaik et al. Nevertheless, these
authors acknowledge that we are still quite far from successfully teasing true causal influences apart from other
factors which may have simply evolved independently of,
C 2007
or subsequent to, enlarged brain size and elevated cognitive abilities.
The gamut of scenarios is run here from highly specified, as exemplified by Yamakoshi’s claim that the marked
intelligence of the common great ape ancestor was directly linked to ‘‘insertion feeding’’ (e.g., tools and insect
nests), to intentionally vague, as claimed by Russon in
her discussions of an open range of potentials across myriad unconnected domains. A fair question arises: is the
apparent complexity and balance of the latter more than
compensated for by the precision and falsifiability of the
former? A realistic addendum may be posed: how will we
ever know (save by tautological reasoning based on some
observed cranial capacity) whether Miocene hominoids
were busy at ‘‘insertion feeding,’’ let alone whether this
ability had significant fitness implications and selective
I was surprised that there was not more coverage and
discussion of the similarities and differences in cognitive
abilities and associated factors (e.g., absolute brain size,
relative brain size, scaling trends, brain components, or
socioecological factors) of the hylobatids as compared to
the large-bodied apes. Several authors (e.g., MacLeod) do
deal with this topic to some extent. But at least some students of ape evolution would suggest that all known Miocene fossil hominoids represent lineages that branched off
prior to the origin of the living hylobatids, and this alternative (while clearly not the preferred one for the paleobiologists in this book) would have major ramifications
for alternative evolutionary scenarios. And if we cannot
discern the bases of the cognitive differences between lesser and great apes, where we have so much complementary information, what are our real chances when
fragmentary extinct taxa of debatable phylogenetic and
paleobiological context are involved? It is also of some
interest to point out that there is no firm consensus
among the various contributors in this book as to whether
the elevated cognitive capabilities of the great ape taxa
are even homologous.
Another issue which emerges is the worrisome tendency to see ‘‘what is’’ as ‘‘what must be’’ in a causal biological sense. Great apes are large (that’s why they’re
‘‘great’’), and several authors (e.g., Ward et al.) assure us
that the challenges associated with being of such large
body size were direct inputs to the evolution of big
brains and complex cognition. Maybe so, but if so, what
about the large-bodied extinct Plio-Pleistocene cercopithecoids which clearly did not evolve levels of encephalization higher than even their close relatives? For those
linking encephalization to ripe-fruit exploitation (e.g.,
Potts), what are we to do with the cognitively not-soadvanced gibbons?
Most biological anthropologists will be struck by the
contrasts in the levels and types of analysis permitted in
those investigations on extant apes vs. those emerging
from paleontological studies. In the first case, the analyses are rather ‘‘fine-grained,’’ and results are often
fairly clear. The paleontological investigations are necessarily much more crude and bracketed. This of course
reflects what is possible, given the respective data sets,
and not the investigators themselves; nevertheless, the
disparity really does hinder any effective integration
here, and leaves one most impressed at how little we do
know about the timing and context of brain size and cog-
nition increases in the sparse hominoid fossil record. In
fact, it raises the legitimate question of how much
paleontology will ever be able to directly contribute to
these sorts of questions. (No worries—if it does turn out
to be true that the small Flores ‘‘people,’’ with a cranial
capacity not substantially greater than 350 cc, indeed
fashioned those fairly advanced stone tools, then we’ll all
have to toss relative and absolute brain sizes of any species into the circular file, in the absence of other highly
detailed corroborating evidence.)
Wessen. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2005.
258 pp. ISBN 0-521-84399-5. $120.00 (cloth).
The observed diversity of life, whether it is in the fossil record or in the living world today, is the product of
one of very many possible evolutionary histories, each of
which had a vanishingly small likelihood of occurring.
With so many potential forces at work in combination
with a large set of possible historical contingencies, making sense of this diversity can be a very difficult task.
Many problems are simply too complicated to solve analytically. Computer simulation is rapidly becoming the
tool of choice to attack these complex evolutionary problems. A simple approach is to simulate large amounts
of data, using a model with particular parameter values.
If the real-world observation is similar to the simulated
values, then the model and parameter values used for
the simulation are conditionally accepted as a plausible
explanation for the observed phenomenon. Simulations
also serve as useful exploratory tools to handle complex
theoretical problems.
Ken Wessen reviews the theory behind, and presents
results of, simulation-based methods intended to provide
insights into both macro- and microevolutionary processes. The two programs that form the basis of the two
distinct sections, Specialist (macroevolutionary simulation) and Genie (microevolutionary simulation), are
available on the World Wide Web at http://school.anhb. The book is not really interpretable without consideration of the different
programs, as it serves as an extended user’s manual.
Thus I have included comments on each of the programs
in this review. Wessen frames the discussion in terms of
the hominoid and hominid (the author’s preferred term)
fossil records, and modern human origins and biological
diversity. The approaches that he proposes, however, are
certainly more broadly applicable. The book is divided
into two main parts, corresponding to the macro- and
microevolutionary applications that are loosely linked by
way of a brief introduction. The introduction is intended
as a summary of past and current research in paleoanthropology and the study of modern human origins,
coupled with a short description of the utility of computer simulation. It is inadequate and presents a fairly
selective sampling of the research done to date. For
instance, there is no discussion of the neutral theory of
phenotypic evolution or of the many relevant ideas about
phenotypic integration, both of which seem necessary
Department of Cell and Molecular Biology
Feinberg School of Medicine
Northwestern University
Chicago, Illinois
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20439
Published online 4 September 2007 in Wiley InterScience
when dealing with the diversity in the fossil record at
the temporal and taxonomic scales considered in this
book. The historical and background content of the introduction is actively misleading in places, and would do a
disservice to an inexperienced reader.
Part 1 deals with results of the use of the Specialist
program in a wide range of problems that paleoanthropologists face when trying to best describe and explain
the diversity of hominoid and hominid fossil records. Specialist is a time-forward simulation that simulates
phylogenetic relationships, taxonomic diversity, fossil preservation, and character-state evolution. It has several
interesting wrinkles: it allows for the modeling of ‘‘nonhereditary’’ characters and continental structure, whereby
levels of taxonomic diversity can vary across space, and
lineages may migrate (‘‘disperse’’ is probably a more apt
characterization) between continents. The strength of
Specialist lies in a couple of interesting ways to visualize
phylogenies and summaries of taxonomic diversity
through time (and space, if desired). This can serve as a
good source of images to illustrate problems in paleontology for use in the classroom. It does not appear to be useful as an analytical tool in its current incarnation,
because it does not have any convenient means to quantitatively evaluate the fit between simulated results and
real data. This hampers the discussion of results in that
the implications of the particular simulations presented
in the book are fairly broad and hard to relate back to the
stated problems. Other difficulties include a model of character evolution that assumes more or less complete evolutionary independence between characteristics (no
covariation/integration) and the instantaneous evolution
of one character state to another (no polymorphism
within a lineage). Both of these issues are widely discussed in the relevant literature, and they are sorely
missed in this treatment. The general results, however,
seem to accord with the current state of scholarly opinion. Wessen concludes that it is difficult to decide which
fossils lie in lineages that still have extant members,
and that complex spatiotemporal distributions of fossils,
and inadequate sampling, pose significant barriers to an
adequate rendering of a group’s evolutionary history.
Part 2 presents an exploration of some microevolutionary models using the simulation program Genie.
Genie departs from most other kinds of microevolutionary simulations in use today in that it is a time-forward
rather than a time-backward simulation. Genie simulates entire pedigrees of individuals forward in time
under different assumptions about demography, population structure, historical events, and mating behavior.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
It then allows the analysis of various kinds of loci in
the simulated pedigree, using a subsample of individuals, and allows for the inclusion of a wide variety of
processes, including recombination and natural selection. The background in Part 2 is better than in Part 1,
although it is probably not a suitable introduction to
the subject for an inexperienced reader, and does not
link well with the problems as they are discussed in
later chapters. As in Part 1, the results are frustratingly general, and are difficult to link up with recent
human evolution in particular. Some of the visualization resources may be useful for building examples for
teaching a class, although they are not nearly as elegant or attractive as other available options. An additional shortcoming is the lack of a convenient interface
between the simulation results and real data, making
analysis of real-world problems difficult.
Many of the criticisms that I have spelled out here are
anticipated by sections outlining how the author intends
to modify the programs in the future. If he carries out
even a small fraction of these proposed improvements,
the programs are likely to be interesting to researchers
from several different backgrounds. As it stands, however, the programs do not readily interface with other
Robert W. Shumaker and Benjamin B. Beck.
Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books. 2003. 194 pp.
ISBN 1. 58834-176-3. $27.95 (paper) (Photographs
by Gerry Ellis).
Books in the Smithsonian Answer Book series are
aimed at general audiences, and thus wonderfully illustrated with color photographs. The present volume is
an excellent example of this series. The questions
addressed by Shumaker and Beck are very interesting,
and the answers clearly written, accurate, and informative. The text flows smoothly and benefits from the virtual absence of references within. All sources of
published information used to answer each question,
however, are appropriately acknowledged at the end of
the book. Every primatologist should have a copy of this
book at an office or home desk and so students, friends,
and relatives can appreciate the wealth of behaviors,
adaptations, social skills, faces, and colors found in the
representatives of this amazing mammal order.
Readers of AJPA will understand the importance of
the basic questions posed by the book’s table of contents:
How closely are humans related to other primates? Did
humans evolve from apes? Will chimpanzees evolve into
humans? There is such misunderstanding (and prejudice) related to these issues among laypeople that I could
not resist the temptation of quoting Shumaker and
Beck’s educational answers to these questions:
Humans, not gorillas, are the nearest relatives to the
chimpanzees and bonobos (p. 54).
The common assumption that humans evolved from
one of the species of modern great ape is completely
wrong. Despite common misperceptions, the human line-
tools or real data, thus limiting their utility for teaching
and research. The results covered in this book seem to
have very little unique to say about human evolution,
thus undermining its stated intent. The more general
points that it does make are better made elsewhere, and
the background sections are not comprehensive or clear
enough to serve as general introductions to the problems. This is not to say that it is devoid of interesting
ideas. With a little bit of effort, these ideas can be
extracted from the text. This puts the book in an awkward position, however, since it is not an appropriate
teaching tool and does not add much in the way of original research on the problems that biological anthropologists are grappling with today.
Department of Anthropology
University of Illinois
Urbana, Illinois
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20440
Published online 4 September 2007 in Wiley InterScience
age was not the conclusion to great ape evolution but
was simply another of the multiple branches. The desire
to find the ‘‘missing link’’ that represents the single
intermediate form between humans and the other great
apes ignores the probability that such an animal never
existed (p. 55).
Humans are by no means a finished product and are
not the ‘‘most evolved’’ (p. 56).
While it is certainly true that chimpanzees look like
humans, it is also true that humans look like chimpanzees (p. 57).
The full answers to these questions deserve translation into every language and publication in newspapers
to promote public knowledge. Such publication might
change our selfish treatment of other living beings and
foster an awareness that could improve the conservation
status of our endangered close kin and their habitats
(a preoccupation of the authors).
The aforementioned questions belong to the first of the
book’s four chapters. Probably the best way to stress the
scope of this book is by summarizing the general direction of questions it poses. Chapter 1, ‘‘Primates in General,’’ covers primate taxonomy and basic biology, asking
questions like: What are primates? How are primates
classified? What do primates eat? Do all primates have
tails? How long do primates live? Chapter 2, ‘‘Primate
Social Behavior,’’ asks: Why do primates live in different
types of groups? Do all primates recognize their relatives, and does this influence their society? How does
body size affect the lives of primates? When do primates
mate? Do primates ‘‘make up’’ after a fight? Do primates
make good pets? Chapter 3, ‘‘Primate Intelligence,’’
addresses basic questions about cognition, intelligence,
and language. Shumaker and Beck ask: How smart are
primates? When was primate intelligence first studied?
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
Do primates have big brains? Do nonhuman primates
use tools? Do nonhuman primates make tools? How do
primates communicate? Do all primates have their own
languages? Can nonhuman primates learn a language?
Which primates have emotions? Chapter 4, ‘‘Primate
Conservation,’’ addresses basic questions concerning how
many species of primate are threatened or endangered
in the wild, the threats faced, and the best ways to protect primates. Important and critical questions asked
include: Are captive primates in trouble? How can I get
This book carries out an important task, and I have
few criticisms of it. There is a taxonomic bias in favor of
great apes and Old World monkeys at the expense of
New World monkeys and prosimians in some parts of
the book. This trend partly relates to the commonest
questions asked about primates. It also reflects a greater
and Marcia S. Ponce de León. Hoboken, NJ: WileyInterscience.2005. 333 pp. ISBN 0-471-20507-9. $94.95
Virtual Reconstruction is a well written, very readable overview of issues relevant to computer-assisted
anatomic reconstruction, particularly of bony anatomy
from CT scans. This type of research is becoming more
accessible for physical anthropologists because of the
ubiquity of more powerful desktop computers,
increased availability of scanning time, and cumulative archival of image data. The text covers the
subjects of data storage, image acquisition, image processing, and visualization. Additional chapters delve
into specific applications including virtual fossil reconstruction, virtual surgery, rapid prototyping, and morphometric analysis. Suggestions for additional reading
and subject-specific appendices provide a resource for
pursuing these issues in more detail without bogging
down the main text. A companion Web site provides additional chapter-specific information, and the authors
intend to update the site on a regular basis. Interactive
applets illustrate important concepts (e.g., the effects of
different filtering algorithms), and links are provided to
additional Internet resources. The content is overtly
intended for paleontological and clinically oriented biomedical researchers but will be useful to any researcher using
computer reconstruction to address questions of anatomic
The authors have been involved in virtual reconstruction research for more than 10 years, and they address
these issues in an introductory way. They acknowledge
that most scientists may not need to know the specific
details of how these tools work but that some knowledge
is useful because subjective choices in the process impact
results. Each of the eight chapters stands alone, making
the book a good reference for people looking for insight
into specific issues in this area of research. The content
is very accessible, and technical details do not overwhelm the reader. The authors break up what could
otherwise be dry material with historical anecdotes and
representation of these lineages in research and the
scientific literature. Importantly, this does not compromise the book’s mission of making primates better
known to everybody. Therefore, I strongly recommend
this book to personal and institutional libraries.
Faculdade de Biociências
Pontifı́cia Universidade Católica do
Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre,
Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20487
Published online 4 September 2007 in Wiley InterScience
unusual metaphors for technical concepts. I found most
of these to be entertaining and useful but questioned
certain attributions. The authors’ interest in paleoanthropology is clear in their choice of metaphors and the
examples offered to illustrate various points. For example, to describe the nature of binary data, they describe
a road lined by yurts in each of which the fire is either
lit or unlit.
The initial chapter is an introduction to the concept of
virtual reconstruction in which the authors point out
that these methods do not create a perfect representation of reality but a reconstruction based on certain
assumptions. This is followed by a chapter on data
representation that assumes no prior knowledge of computer science. The authors demonstrate a wonderful
ability to take the reader from fundamental information
on bits and bytes through more technical explanations of
data representations (e.g., big endian versus little endian) to big-picture explanations of file formats. There is
also a very interesting explanation of common data compression algorithms.
Chapters 3–5 cover the topics of data acquisition, data
processing, and visualization. The authors provide an
easily understandable description of CT data acquisition,
including explanations of signal attenuation and reconstruction of slice images and a discussion of common
artifacts encountered in working with CT data. MR imaging, surface scanning, and 3D digitization are also
addressed, but in much less detail. Although some
researchers are able to maintain some degree of control
over the parameters used in acquiring image data, many
others are limited by cost and safety issues to using preexisting (e.g., clinically obtained) image data and have
no control over the parameters used in data acquisition.
The authors explain very clearly the effects of image processing filters (illustrated by very helpful figures) and
supplement this information in the appendices. However,
many readers would likely benefit from even more detail,
and more discussion of the issues that arise when working with previously obtained CT data would have been
Chapter 6, detailing the virtual reconstruction of fossil material, appears to be the centerpiece of the text.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
This chapter is guided by the methodology used by the
authors in their own research. These methods are
explained well, and the authors focus on guiding principles that are worthy of consideration regardless of
specific methodology used. The authors use their work
with the Lagar Velho cranial material to illustrate
their discussion of reconstructive parsimony, the interpolation and extrapolation of missing structures, correction of taphonomic deformation, and validation.
Again, the authors present their approach in such a
clear and unambiguous fashion that I expect some
casual readers will be drawn to further study in this
area of research.
Chapter 7 describes different approaches to creating
physical replicas of virtually reconstructed forms (e.g.,
rapid prototyping), potential goals for this step, and the
pros and cons of each approach. Chapter 8 discusses different methodologies for morphometric analysis applicable to virtual reconstructions, including methods that
take advantage of 3D spatial relationships. The authors
focus on three approaches in particular that will be
familiar to an audience of physical anthropologists: analyses based on Kendall’s shape space, Euclidean distance
matrix analysis, and Fourier analysis. They do a commendable job again of presenting the pros and cons of
Adovasio JM, Soffer O, and Page J (2007) The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in
Prehistory. New York: Smithsonian Books. 302 pp.
$26.95 (cloth).
Cheney DL, and Seyfarth RM (2007) Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press. 348 pp. $27.50 (cloth).
Hall BK (ed.) (2007) Fins into Limbs: Evolution,
Development, and Transformation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 344 pp. $45.00 (paper).
Henke W, and Tattersall I (eds.) (2007) Handbook of
Paleoanthropology, 3 volumes. New York: Springer.
2173 pp. $799.00 (hardcover).
Ice GH, and James GD (eds.) (2007) Measuring Stress
in Humans: A Practical Guide for the Field. New
York: Cambridge University Press. 284 pp. $130.00
Lempa H (2007) Beyond the Gymnasium: Educating the
Middle-class Bodies in Classical Germany. Lanham,
MD: Lexington Books. 320 pp. $38.95 (paper).
McGraw WS, Zuberbühler K, and Noë R (eds.) (2007)
Monkeys of the Taı̈ Forest: An African Primate
Community. New York: Cambridge University
Press. 342 pp. $120.00 (hardcover).
each approach in light of three stated goals for morphometric analyses: data acquisition, data analysis, and
data visualization.
It was a pleasure to read this book. Its greatest
strengths are its excellent organization and engaging
tone. The book is a valuable contribution to the field of
computer-assisted anatomic reconstruction, and I
would recommend it to anyone interested in 3D reconstruction from CT data. Imaging data for fossil materials are going to become more common and more easily
accessible, an issue addressed by the authors in Chapter 6, and the number of studies based on virtual
reconstructions will increase. Researchers working
with fossil material (either virtual or original) should
be familiar with the material that is described so well
in this book.
Center for Functional Anatomy and Evolution
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Baltimore, Maryland
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20537
Published online 4 September 2007 in Wiley InterScience
Morwood M, and van Oosterzee P (2007) A New
Human: The Startling Discovery and Strange
Story of the ‘‘Hobbits’’ of Flores, Indonesia.
New York: Smithsonian Books. 256 pp. $25.95
Petraglia MD, and Allchin B (eds.) (2007) The Evolution and History of Human Populations in South
Asia. New York: Springer. 464 pp. $129.00 (hardcover).
Sawyer GJ, Deak V, and Sarmiento E (2007) The Last
Human: A Guide to Twenty-two Species of Extinct
Humans. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
256 pp. $45.00 (cloth).
Sugg R (2007) Murder After Death: Literature and
Anatomy in Early Modern England. Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press. 259 pp. $45.00 (cloth).
Wintour EM, and Owens JA (eds.) (2006) Early Life
Origins of Health and Disease. New York: Springer.
228 pp. $159.00 (hardcover).
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.20708
Published online 4 September 2007 in Wiley InterScience
American Journal of Physical Anthropology—DOI 10.1002/ajpa
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