Book: The Wisdom of the Bones

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The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins

Author: Alan Walker, Pat Shipman
Publisher: Vintage

In 1984 a team of paleoanthropologists on a dig in northern Kenya found something extraordinary: a nearly complete skeleton of Homo erectus, a creature that lived 1.5 million years ago and is widely thought to be the missing link between apes and humans. The remains belonged to a tall, rangy adolescent male. The researchers called him “Nariokotome boy.”

In this immensely lively book, Alan Walker, one of the lead researchers, and his wife and fellow scientist Pat Shipman tell the story of that epochal find and reveal what it tells us about our earliest ancestors. We learn that Nariokotome boy was a highly social predator who walked upright but lacked the capacity for speech. In leading us to these conclusions, The Wisdom of the Bones also offers an engaging chronicle of the hundred-year-long search for a “missing link,” a saga of folly, heroic dedication, and inspired science.


Traveling to the desolate rock-strewn deserts of northen Kenya, where the temperature can hit a brutal and dry 130 degrees, would be enough of a trip, but scientist Alan Walker also takes us on a trip in time, far back in time, where we meet a boy who will help to re-write the story of our human ancestors. The mysterious boy, whose skeleton is the best specimen of Homo Erectus, the species long considered the proverbial missing link between apes and humans, lived more than a million years ago. But in the hands of scientists whose skill is only matched by their curiosity, his bones talk to us today. A highly readable account which shows how paleoanthropologists, in work both painstaking and exciting, reach conclusions about the day-to-day life of the ancestors of modern man.

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