Book Review: Origins Reconsidered — In Search of What Makes Us Human
Who Should Read This Book
Origins Reconsidered recounts the story of human evolution from multiple angles: locomotion, cognitive abilities, speech, art, consciousness, and language. It is a thrilling read aiming to identify the unique elements of human nature by examining how these elements emerged over time and under what ecological conditions. It’s the layman’s classic book on paleoanthropology.
Richard Leakey is a Kenyan paleoanthropologist whose team discovered the Turkana Boy in 1984, an almost complete skeleton of a Homo erectus, which, for fossil hunters, is a remarkably rare find.
In 1977, Leakey published a book co-authored by Roger Lewin and titled Origins. In light of recent scientific findings fifteen years later, he decided to re-examine the ideas presented in Origins; the result was a new book, Origins Reconsidered — In Search of What Makes Us Human.
The book is divided into six parts as follows:
- Part 1: In Search of the Turkana Boy — In the three chapters constituting this section of the book, Leakey recounts the story of the discovery of the Turkana Boy and the scientific knowledge that could be gleaned from it. The narrative he presented of the boy’s final days and subsequent death on the shores of lake Turkana is captivating, a testament to the author’s remarkable story-telling skills.
- Part 2: In Search of Beginnings — The central themes of this part are A) bipedalism, its origins and implications, B) the diversity of the humanoid family and the emergence of a single winner with every other branch going extinct, and C) molecular biology and how can it supplements scientific knowledge from fossils.
- Part 3: In Search of Humanity — In the four chapters that make up this section, Leakey elaborates on the social life of early humans, the emergence of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and how dietary changes, smaller teeth, larger brain sizes, tool-making, and lean facial architectures were produced as hominids became less ape-like and more human-like. He recounts how anthropologists tried to piece together the structure of a hominid band, its daily routines, and complex social life from artifacts found in an ancient archeological site.
- Part 4: In Search of Modern Humans — Neanderthals and other branches of the human family occupy centre stage in part 4 of Origins Reconsidered. More specifically, the author analyses various theories explaining the ascent of Man (Homo Sapiens), the species’ mystical dominance over its cousins, like the Neanderthals, and its spread on all continents. A chapter is dedicated to analysing DNA in mitochondria and the evidence it provides towards a common ancestor for all humankind.
- Part 5: In Search of the Modern Human Mind — Five chapters are dedicated to aspects of the human mind (advanced cognition, abstraction, consciousness, language, mythology, art) that we recognise today as intimately human. Richard Leakey dissects each of these attributes in great detail, endeavouring to reach as far past as scientific evidence allows (bordering on speculation when not) to pinpoint the origins and areas of the brain or body in which these attributes first took form.
- Part 6: In Search of the Future — In this small and final chapter, Leakey approaches the Anthropological Principle and the inevitability (or not) of our appearance as a species.
Origins Reconsidered presents the reader with a view of the current state of scientific research (tools, methods, and theories) in paleoanthropology. It is a well-researched, thorough, and captivating story of our origins as a species.
ISBN-13: 9 780316 902984
23.5 x 15 x 3.7 cm
- Human Origins
- Human Evolution
- Fossil Studies
- Human Anatomy
- Primate Anatomy
- Human and Primate Cognition
- Molecular biology
- Life History
- Turkana Boy
- Cultural Anthropology
Richard Erskine Frere Leakey (19 December 1944 – 2 January 2022) was a Kenyan paleoanthropologist, conservationist and politician. Leakey held several official positions in Kenya, mostly in archaeology and wildlife conservation institutions. He was the Director of the National Museum of Kenya, founded the NGO WildlifeDirect and was the chairman of the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Leakey co-founded the Turkana Basin Institute in an academic partnership with Stony Brook University, where he was an anthropology professor. He served as the chair of the Turkana Basin Institute until his death.
- Origins (with Roger Lewin, 1977)
- People of the Lake: Mankind and its Beginnings (with Roger Lewin, 1978)
- Making of Mankind (1981)
- One Life: An Autobiography (1983)
- Origins Reconsidered (with Roger Lewin, 1992)
- The Origin of Humankind (1994)
- The Sixth Extinction (with Roger Lewin, 1995)
- Wildlife Wars: My Fight to Save Africa’s Natural Treasures (with Virginia Morell, 2001)