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First in Line

First in Line: Tracing Our Ape Ancestry

Tom Gundling
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 222
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  • Book Info
    First in Line
    Book Description:

    Despite Darwin's bold contention in 1871 that the likely ancestor forHomo sapiens wasan African ape, the scientific community hesitated for decades before accepting small-brained but bipedal walking "apes" from southern Africa as direct human ancestors. Remains of the australopiths, as these bipedal apes are now called, were first discovered in 1924, yet 25 years passed before the australopiths found their place on the human family tree. This book is the first to document in detail this paradigm shift in paleoanthropology between 1924 and 1950.Tom Gundling examines a period in anthropological history when ideas about what it means to be human were severely tested. Drawing on extensive primary sources, many never before published, he argues that the reinterpretation of early human fossils came about at last because of changes in theoretical approach, not simply because new and more complete fossils had been recovered. Gundling concludes with a review of the most significant post-1950 events in the field of paleoanthropology.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13074-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-5)

    The August 15, 1959, issue of the prestigious academic journalNatureheralded the discovery of a new human ancestor that lived in what is now northern Tanzania sometime during the remote past (Leakey 1959). ChristenedZinjanthropus boisei,this ancient hominid¹ displayed a unique mix of anatomical features, including traits typical of the living great apes and others associated with modern humans. Newspaper headlines trumpeted the discovery throughout the world, and scholars lined up to heap praise on the scientists who toiled under harsh conditions tracking down our early ancestor. The National Geographic Society rewarded Louis and Mary Leakey with greatly...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Great Chain Legacy
    (pp. 6-23)

    Long before Charles Darwin and his intellectual heirs began to seriously consider the biological evolution of modern human beings from some “nonhuman” species, Western thinkers formulated a very different way of understanding the natural world around them. For the greater part of the last two millennia, nature was viewed as an unchanging arrangement of living things, organized in a linear sequence with the simplest, most primitive forms at the bottom and the most complex organisms near the top. This “Chain of Being,” also called theScala Naturae,reflected the boundless wisdom of some ultimate creative force, and was considered perfect:...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Putting the Chain in Motion
    (pp. 24-41)

    The idea of nature as a graded continuum was received by postmedieval scholars in the form of the Great Chain of Being, also called theScala Naturae. Even with the eventual dismissal of the nearly human wild races and mythical beasts, there was still a group of animals, Linnaeus’s Primates, that served as links between humans and other mammals. In particular, members of the genusSimia,composed of the fairly well-known monkeys and lesser-known apes, were considered most similar to humans (Homo), but the two were clearly distinguishable as distinct grades of organization. With nature viewed as the immutable result...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Finding Missing Links
    (pp. 42-57)

    The intellectual chasm between a simple linear Chain of Being and a more complex branching family tree was not easy to negotiate. The temporalized Great Chain of Being had gone some way toward resolving the issue by maintaining the notion of humanity’s supreme position in nature yet allowing for evolutionary change. But the compromise of putting the Great Chain in motion did nothing to alleviate the emerging discord between rigid Linnaean taxonomy and the more fluid, relentlessly ramifying phylogeny inherent in Darwinian theory. The Linnaean taxonomic system was erected to organize extant species that were perceived as immutable, which they...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Southern Ape
    (pp. 58-100)

    During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Linnaean taxonomic system, in which apes and humans were considered distinct kinds of higher primates, continued to function in an evolutionary context as long as fossils supported this “natural” dichotomy. The fossil record seemed to corroborate the Linnaean dichotomy, revealing two groups of extinct forms: those that had crossed some poorly defined human threshold and were therefore members of the Hominidae, and some which had not and were grouped among the Pongidae: “Darwin and Huxley proceeded of course from comparative anatomy; practically speaking, human or anthropoid fossils were unknown. Their allying...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Darwin Redux
    (pp. 101-140)

    Despite Broom’s numerous discoveries at Sterkfontein and Kromdraii and the detailed analyses of the original fossils by Gregory and Hellman, in the mid-1940s the case for the australopithecines as human ancestors was not widely accepted: “In 1946, the generally accepted view of most anatomists and zoologists was that the South African australopithecines were simply a local variant of an apelike creature similar to the gorillas and chimpanzees, and were in no way directly related to the family of man, the Hominidae.”¹ Many authorities had solidified their opinion on the significance of the South African anthropoids over the previous decade based...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 141-154)

    In order to comprehend current scientific opinion on the origin of the human species, it is necessary to acquire firsthand knowledge of the historical development of such modern ideas. Documenting changing ideas, particularly regarding our own prehistory, is a fascinating exercise. The original words of Broom, Keith, Gregory, and Le Gros Clark, among many others, echo from the recent past about the more distant past. Not surprisingly, these scholars thought about human evolution in ways somewhat at odds with current ideas. Scientific research is by its nature an iterative process, and with each new discovery, theoretical breakthrough, or scholarly equivalent...

  12. Appendixes
    (pp. 155-158)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 159-174)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-192)
  15. Index
    (pp. 193-204)