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A potted history of the human evolutionary story

A potted history of the human evolutionary story

New Scientist

Image: Barras

Eighteenth-century taxonomist Carl Linnaeus defined over 10,000 species during his career. Few gave him as little trouble as our own. Homo, nosce te ipsum – Man, know thyself – he wrote in 1735, presumably suggesting that no one could seriously confuse our species with another. Around a century after he penned this definition-cum-decree, the first Neanderthal fossils turned up. It was an early sign that human taxonomy was a lot more complicated than Linnaeus suspected.

In a sense, then, Ian Tattersall’s new book, Masters of the Planet, could be seen as a guide for the perplexed student of human origins. Tattersall, an emeritus curator of anthropology at New York’s Museum of Natural History, guides the reader through roughly 7 million years of our prehistory, carefully explaining how each of the few dozen species of hominin we have identified so far fit into our current picture of human evolution. Read more on…