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Book review Western Diseases An Evolutionary Perspective.

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Book Reviews
MONKEYS. By Nina G. Jablonski and Meave G. Leakey.
San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences. 2008.
ISBN 0-940228-73-4 $87.00/$25.00 (hardcover + DVD/
The Koobi Fora Formation has yielded some of the
most famous and important specimens documenting
Plio-Pleistocene hominin evolution. These sediments also
offer an amazing array of vertebrate fossils that record
the evolution of other mammalian groups including
ungulates, carnivores, and the focus of this volume, cercopithecoid monkeys. The volume is divided into eight
chapters replete with descriptions of fossil material, dietary analyses, and hypotheses of cercopithecoid evolution
during the Plio-Pleistocene. The accompanying DVD
includes chapter PDFs and additional photographs of
key specimens discussed in the text. While the price of
the hardcover volume is extremely reasonable, the
option to purchase the DVD separately will make the
volume’s information accessible to everyone.
In the first four chapters, the fossil material is meticulously described, with measurements and beautiful photographs of all the key specimens. New taxa are described,
including new species of Cercopithecoides and of the
extant genus Colobus. In addition, Jablonski and Leakey
imply that some of the Koobi Fora specimens may be
related to the Mandrillus lineage, which, if true, would be
some of the first fossil evidence of this large papionin.
These descriptions contain thoughtful analysis and
remarks, and the many tables of specimens and their
associated measurements are a great source of data.
Mauricio Antón provides gorgeous artistic reconstructions
of the best-represented taxa. Overall, these excellent chapters comprise a valuable core for the volume.
By comparison, the last four chapters are much more
uneven. Chapter 5 attempts to accomplish several laudable goals. First, the authors compile a large character
set and provide known character states for each Koobi
Fora cercopithecoid taxon. Next, they employ the DELTA
system (Description Language for Taxonomy) to generate
a fossil-identification key. The result is a flowchart for
classifying unknown fossils, beginning with characters of
the lower molars. Finally, they use a phenetic-distance
matrix including the Koobi Fora fossils and a number of
extant taxa to suggest potential phylogenetic relationships among the various taxa.
Although I sincerely appreciate the effort and the
intention of this chapter, I found much of it cumbersome
and unhelpful. The character-state lists for each taxon
are certainly convenient and will no doubt prove useful,
but one must be careful because many of the character
states are more variable than can be appreciated by
strictly adhering to the list. The flowchart may be useful
in some cases, but since the entire identification process
begins with lower molars, a researcher who has only
upper molars or premolars to identify is seemingly out of
luck. Similar problems occur at each step, wherever a
given anatomical element is not preserved.
I also have reservations about the ability of phenetic
analysis to suggest phylogenetic relationships among
C 2009
taxa, particularly in the case of cercopithecoid monkeys.
Allometric effects on cercopithecoid anatomy have long
been known to confuse assessments of homoplasy and
homology. Many phenetically similar cercopithecoid taxa
are not closely related phylogenetically. For example, the
phenetic analysis here predictably suggests that Mandrillus is more similar to Papio than is Lophocebus, despite the latter two taxa’s closer phylogenetic relationship. Even more glaringly, the fossil guenon Cercopithecus sp. indet. B is apparently more similar to the extant
arboreal mangabey Lophocebus albigena than is the
Plio-Pleistocene Lophocebus cf. albigena! So while it is
interesting that the large papionin Parapapio sp. B is
dentally similar to Mandrillus, the absence of any
shared derived craniodental characters (e.g., Parapapio
sp. B has small premolars whereas Mandrillus has very
large premolars) makes it difficult, pending additional
evidence, to accept the suggestion of a close phylogenetic
relationship between them.
Chapter 6 examines the diet of the Koobi Fora monkeys through the analysis of molar shearing crests and
microwear. Although postmortem damage reduced sample sizes and obscured some microwear, results suggest
that the Koobi Fora colobines and cercopithecines had
molar shearing capabilities similar to modern forms, but
that patterns of microwear, particularly the low incidence of pits, were very similar during this period. Despite obvious differentiation in the dental morphology of
the two modern cercopithecoid subfamilies, dietary differences among Koobi Fora cercopithecoids may have
been subtle and easily shifted to track changing resources. The low incidence of pitting suggests that these taxa
had no dietary specializations for tough or hard foods.
In Chapter 7, Meave Leakey and colleagues give a
highly informative and well written review of the geology of the Omo-Turkana Basin and the Koobi Fora Formation in particular. It would have been beneficial to
place this chapter before the fossil descriptions, but it is
of no less value at the end of the volume. Leakey et al.
divide the geological formation into four distinct time
intervals and then look for temporal trends in cercopithecid evolution. In general, small-to-medium sized
papionin and colobine taxa dominate the earliest time
interval, followed by an increase in body size and diversity during the middle intervals, and finally a loss of
many of the large-bodied taxa and the emergence of
modern genera in the final interval.
These temporal patterns are also discussed in the volume’s final chapter, a conclusion by Jablonski and Leakey. They ably summarize the major themes and observations of the previous chapters and address some
broad-scale evolutionary questions with hypotheses to
explain the observed patterns. In particular, Jablonski
and Leakey address the disappearance of the highly successful and geographically widespread Theropithecus
oswaldi and offer a potential explanation for its demise.
Although I am personally skeptical of the explanation
offered, namely that competition from migratory ungulates drove T. oswaldi to extinction, the authors should
be commended for presenting a testable hypothesis for
future research. It is always nice to see large-scale evolutionary issues addressed in a chapter such as this. By
doing so, it successfully offers fertile ground for future
studies of cercopithecoid evolution. In fact, I would have
preferred to see even more issues discussed. For example, Jablonski and Leakey imply that Theropithecus
darti and Theropithecus oswaldi lived contemporaneously *3.4 Ma, suggesting that these populations represent distinct and potentially non-linear species. However,
many students of cercopithecoid evolution (including
Leakey, in Theropithecus: The Rise and Fall of a Primate
Genus [N.J. Jablonski, ed., 1993]), argue that these species are arbitrary divisions of an anagenetic lineage and
that the entire sequence should instead be divided into
chronological subspecies. Further explanation of these
and other issues would have been welcome.
As with all large edited volumes, there are some typographical mistakes and slight errors, as well as some
mislabeled specimen photographs in both the text and
the DVD. In general, these errors do not significantly
detract from the value of the volume. Like earlier Koobi
Fora Research Project volumes, The Fossil Monkeys is
Edited by JoelIrish and GregNelson . Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press. 2008. 456 pp. ISBN 9780-521-87061-0. $140.00 (hardcover).
The subject of teeth is polarizing for biological anthropologists; many of us seem to simply love them or loathe
them. Students of the field typically receive a brief introduction in human osteology or evolution courses, which
impart a dry, nomenclature-based view of one of the most
ubiquitous types of evidence for extinct primates and
archaeological populations. The jargon academics have
developed to characterize dental morphology (e.g., midtrigonid crest, metaconulid, crista obliqua, etc.) reinforces
students’ negative impressions. Learning and relearning
(and relearning) molar cusp names is a dreaded rite of
passage for anthropologists. In many cases, those of us
who, against the odds, become enamored with teeth are
forced to teach ourselves about the rich and diverse nature of dental morphology, development, and function.
For this reason, each book (or special journal edition)
may play a more important role in shaping the future of
dental anthropology than the many texts on the traditional subfields of biological anthropology.
This edited volume features papers given at a 2005
symposium in honor of the 20-year anniversary of the
Dental Anthropology Association (DAA). The DAA, representing several hundred members, is the primary scientific organization for anthropologists interested in
aspects of human and nonhuman primate dentitions. As
the editors note in the introduction, the symposium was
conceived to highlight the ‘‘state of the science’’ of dental
anthropology research, and the volume was designed to
follow up Marc Kelley and Clark Larsen’s seminal edited
volume, Advances in Dental Anthropology (1991). The
result is a broader and more accessible book that reviews
subjects ranging from forensic dentistry to micro-computed tomographic studies of dental tissues. Those familiar with the 1991 volume will find continuity in the
updated history of dental anthropology and studies of
population health, as well as a novel examination of the
technical advances that have been made in the past two
an excellent book, boasting detailed descriptions, wonderful photographs, beautiful artistic reconstructions,
and large data tables. It is truly a treasure trove of information that will prove useful to a wide range of paleoanthropologists—particularly those interested in cercopithecoid evolution—and inspire many future studies of
cercopithecoid evolution.
Department of Anthropology
Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies
Yale University, New Haven, CT
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21054
Published online 8 April 2009 in Wiley InterScience
It is difficult not to compare this volume with Springer’s 2007 Dental Perspectives on Human Evolution
(Shara Bailey and Jean-Jacques Hublin, eds.), which
also aims to review the ‘‘state-of-the-art’’ of dental
research. Both books feature cover illustrations of virtual
dentitions and include chapters by Bailey, Guatelli-Steinberg, Humphrey, Schwartz, Ungar, and colleagues.
Unsurprisingly, both books suffer from the slow pace of
book publication; approximately half of the chapters
have been published previously in peer-reviewed journals. Exceptions in the Irish and Nelson volume include
new data on lead and zinc isotopes in tooth enamel by
Humphrey et al., analyses of dental pathology in an Iranian archaeological community by Hemphill, and an
analysis of chimpanzee crown morphology by Bailey.
Those of us looking for additional novel data on dental
morphology, development, and function should keep
shopping. However, graduate students in the early
stages of dental infatuation would be wise to give this
book a read. With its wealth of citations and diverse
reviews, this book will be a handy reference.
Having the welcome challenge of designing an undergraduate course on the evolutionary biology of primate
teeth, I was particularly interested in evaluating the
utility of this text as an alternative to Simon Hillson’s
1996 classic Dental Anthropology. Unfortunately, the editors may not have quite hit their mark in producing a
volume that is appropriate for undergraduates. In contrast to both Kelley and Larsen’s volume and Hillson’s
text, there are fewer illustrations, which are particularly
lacking in chapters on forensic dentistry and dental pathology. Coupled with its lofty price, the lack of images
makes this a volume written by specialists for other specialists, which is unfortunate given the rich tradition of
dental-themed publications by Cambridge University
Press. It appears that Hillson’s text will continue to
reign as the supreme source for an introduction to dental
Irish and Nelson’s volume is organized into four primary sections: context, population health, life and population history, and new techniques. The introductory
chapters, particularly Scott and Turner’s historical
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
review of the subfield, provide worthwhile background
reading for dental novices, lending greater significance
to the recent developments highlighted in the final chapters. The section on population heath includes five chapters on enamel hypoplasias (Guatelli-Steinberg), trace
isotopic elements (Humphrey et al.) and dental pathology (Hillson; Lukacs and Thompson; Hemphill). The
papers in this section underscore a pedagogical limitation of this volume, which is the variable depth of the
chapters. Several are written as brief introductory chapters or review articles, while others are detailed and
lengthy treatments of particular subjects, complete with
voluminous appendices or data tables. Despite this
inconsistency, the comprehensive treatment of dental
defects and decay in this section is worthwhile reading.
The volume continues with six chapters loosely organized around the theme of applied life and population history. Contributions include methodological reviews of
dental development and forensic dentistry by Schwartz
and Dean, Liversidge, and Schmidt, in addition to functional and taxonomic applications by Ungar and Bunn
and Bailey. This section concludes with a chronological
review by Rizk et al. of studies of dental genetics, with
an emphasis on quantitative genetics, which is one of
the primary developments of the past few decades.
Although both Ungar and Bunn and Bailey present new
results on primate topographic analyses and chimpanzee
dental morphology, respectively, this section is also light
on primary data.
M. Pollard. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press. 2008. 234 pp. ISBN 978-0-521-85180-0. $150.00
About 30 years ago, infectious diseases were being
replaced by late-onset, chronic diseases as the major challenges to public health in the industrialized world (or so it
seemed). Epidemiology was taken out of the lab, where
Pasteur had put it, and transformed into the statistical
study of measured environmental risk factors. The fact
that the new plague on human kind was environmental in
origin was made clear by the rapid change in disease incidence and prevalence in migrants and in indigenous populations in the developing world as they became affected by
modernization. The great variation in prevalence around
the world reinforced the idea of environmental etiology.
In 1981, H.C. Trowell and Dennis Burkitt published
Western Diseases: Their Emergence and Prevention, a
noteworthy study that made this case in regard to
numerous diseases, including some forms of cancer and
nutritional diseases such as diabetes. A separate, contemporary thread in anthropology concerned the nature,
variability, adaptability, and evolution of human populations. Geoffrey Harrison, Paul Baker, Jack Schull, and a
number of others led studies that showed how natural
selection, and hence presumably genetic change, had
adapted humans around the world to life in environments such as high-altitude hypoxia.
Tessa Pollard has now written a sequel to Trowell and
Burkitt (1981), explicitly echoing their title and thereby
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
The final section of the volume considers technological
innovations, including advances in understanding incisal
function and dental microwear (Agrawal et al.; Ungar
et al.), and new approaches to characterizing tooth size and
internal structure (Fitzgerald and Hillson; Macchiarelli
et al.). Humphrey et al.’s laser ablation approach, which
powerfully integrates tooth histology and elemental analysis, could have easily been slotted into this section as well.
Several of the papers in the final two sections underscore
the fact that dental anthropology has become a ‘‘big tent’’.
Nonhuman primates are being studied at an ever increasing rate, new methods of assessing tooth development
are being applied more commonly, and sophisticated
approaches to understanding dental function continue to
be developed. Although the topics featured in this 20thanniversary commemorative volume may be difficult to
organize into appropriate unifying themes, their sheer diversity demonstrates that dental anthropology is continuing its maturation as a viable anthropological subfield.
Department of Anthropology
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21073
Published online 16 April 2009 in Wiley InterScience
acknowledging that ‘‘Western’’ diseases (a shorthand for
diseases of the industrial world) are mainly responses to
environmental changes. She also appropriately dedicates
her book to Harrison. However, the ‘‘evolutionary perspective’’ of her subtitle and the DNA molecule on the
cover, at least somewhat misleadingly, suggest a melding
of these two former threads.
Pollard begins with an outline of the history of human
disease, a rather standard treatment of the health patterns associated with cultural evolution from huntergatherers to farmers to urbanites. Many, including
myself, have expressed such stereotyped views of past
human living conditions, as if cultural states were globally uniform, but such stereotyping may be inaccurate
and less than helpful. For example, Pollard makes the
rather remarkable statement that ‘‘the disease profile of
hunter-gatherer populations appears quite positive’’ (p.
12). Given their nasty, brutish, and short lives without
benefit of anesthetics, antibiotics, or double lattes with
all-you-can-eat fries, this is a strange statement, but she
seems to mean that our ancestors didn’t have to deal
with the bêtes noires of modern morbidity that her book
is mainly about.
This introduction is followed by separate chapters on
the role of diet and activity in obesity and related disorders; of hormones in reproductive cancers, asthma and
allergic diseases in children, and stress-related conditions including depression and associated cardiovascular
disease. She provides details of these diseases as well as
ancillary topics along the way. These are well-written
informative chapters that present the epidemiological evi-
dence for diseases (partially overlapping the diseases discussed by Trowell and Burkitt) whose prevalence has
increased rapidly in recent decades, even as their age of
onset has decreased. Pollard shows the difficulty of
understanding the ultimate causes of some of these, such
as asthma, but demonstrates clearly, if largely circumstantially, that they are due to modern lifestyles. She
describes various attempts to identify the causative factors. Her presentation is frequently framed by comparing
a stereotyped earlier cultural lifestyle to what we experience today, and she concludes the book with an overview
chapter summarizing her evolutionary perspective.
As Pollard says, it is useful to ‘‘question [the common
assumption] that the human body in affluent western
societies is normal’’ (p. 164). But beyond that, in what
way is this topic ‘‘evolutionary,’’ and how does such a
perspective help? It is clear, even from documented
recent history, that we live quite differently from our
ancestors and that we pay a price for it. However, that
price is paid generally at advanced age compared with
the presumed typical diseases in the past. But the
assumption is far less clear that we were genetically
adapted to the relevant aspects of our past cultural existence or that our current disease pattern reflects that
in an informative way. Pollard speculates, here and
there, about what a specific adaptation was to or for
but often acknowledges that these are really only
guesses. Without more solid, specific evidence, the fact
that breastfeeding and not overeating can reduce current morbidity is true but not illuminating in evolutionary terms. Knowing the selective reasons for the
health-protective value of breastfeeding or restrained
eating would alter neither the facts nor effective public
health responses.
Putting DNA on the cover seems to be mere salesmanship, as this book is not really about evolution in any specific way or about genes, except perhaps as unspecified
metaphors for the presumed adaptive past. To the contrary, the book is essentially about environmental
changes. In fact, Pollard does not give enough credit to a
host of investigators and studies, including Trowell, Burkitt, and many others, who convincingly showed the environmental nature of secular trends in ‘‘Western’’ diseases.
Most of the ‘‘adaptations’’ that modern disease supposedly
plays into, even if specifically genetic, predate hominids,
which is the reason why we can study them in mice. It
may even be misleading to suggest that they have specifically to do with bands, tribes, chiefdoms, or states. If we
eat empty calories endlessly, we’ll get overweight and pay
for it with disease, as do the pets who share our diet.
This does not meaningfully show we were adapted specifically for limited caloric intake in times of unpredictable
food availability. The weak relevance of evolutionary perspectives is perhaps reflected in the fact that Pollard concludes by saying such a perspective ‘‘suggests two key
targets for health promotion strategies. These are physical activity levels and breastfeeding behavior’’ (p. 172).
While certainly important, these are not new evolutionary genetic conclusions.
If our current plague, like previous plagues, is essentially environmental, it is nonetheless capably described
in this informative, well produced book, which is well
worth reading. Unfortunately, the cost of this good, but
slim, book may be a sign of another Western maladaptation, the morbid state of academic publishing. The evidence provided by Pollard presents a strong rationale to
think, in terms of public health, about how anthropologists might help to develop acceptable lifestyle changes
and interventions, even if, as she says, we can’t return
to hunter-gatherer times.
Department of Anthropology
Penn State University
State College, PA
DOI 10.1002/ajpa.21092
Published online 5 May 2009 in Wiley InterScience
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
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