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Yup Lees narrative text provides both a thought provoking and boldly speculative volume concerned with the origin and nature of mankind. The approach is refreshing in both style and content, daring to speculate with the use of imaginary portraits and dramatic scenarios, each together with accompanying stage direction notes. Though both welcome and provocative, these are the kinds of possibly misleading interpretations so often utilized by designers of polular hominid archaeo-museum pieces and large, attractive, story-display diorama. In this sense, the book repeatedly offers a number of at first exiting, new, and often intuitively appealing interpretations of the findings to be found in the extant literature, but it consistently fails to offer any new data in support of the novel speculations made. One should not take this as reason to be dismissive, however; as it was not so very long ago (as one might remember) that similar scorn was heaped upon Immanuel Velikovsky (in the 1960-70s, see e.g., Worlds in Collision) in the days when theories of continental drift and plate tectonics were still considered heretical to many readers.
Offering little discussion of the recent literature concerned with the field of cognitive archeology (see S. Mithen et al.,) Lee not only boldly speculates on the use of changing landscape and reinterprets the use of ancient artifacts, he explicitly rejects much of accepted lore with regards many of the more orthodox (although admittedly controversial) early hominid evolutionary theories. Although primary sources are not always given, Lee is careful to offer references for the claims of others and does not ignore many of the standard theories, especially in his discussions of gross morphology and comparative anatomy. However, Lee's frequent claims for filling in the gaps and having solved the "missing link"-type questions are less convincing without the provision of some new data.
Moving through the book cover to cover, one comes to believe quite early on that Lee has found (at least) perhaps his own place in Nature, if not convincingly so for the various Hominid groups as a whole. The human lineage diversion stories are charming in their telling, but for me, their dependence upon linguistic etiology leaves it wanting better evidence. I did, however, like the portrayal of the development of bipedalism, and the dispersion of the arboreal species to more challenging habitats, though the advent of chimpanzee colonies (as described) was less convincing. In his discussion of the relevance of concealed estrus (the cycle during which female mammals are sexually receptive), I feel that Lee does not go far enough, yet in other expositions, he travels way beyond the data available. As for proto-hominids equestrian fancies, I would like to believe the imaginary portrait story narrative as presented, but again, I need clearer evidence before I will so do. I agree that it is easy to greet one's Chinese mother-in-law (ma) as being a horse (ma) if the inflection is not correct, but these associations remain largely arbitrary and somewhat language specific, with plenty other candidate correlates remaining available for the rival theorist (e.g., a lost opportunity might have been taken here to include the French language homonyms: cheval = horse; cheveux = hair to lasting effect !].
Overall, however, this is a book that should remain on the shelf for us to occasionally look back to for its claims and ideas. As with Velikovsky and tectonics, the role of the Rift Valley development and the courses of its waterways in hominid evolution may yet contain the evidence that Yup Lee's speculations will require before he is to be more widely acclaimed. And even then, not only as the writer of enchanting just-so stories, but, if he is correct, as someone who provoked a significant shift in our understanding of the Nature of Humankind.
Dr. A. R. Dickinson, Dept. of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine
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