Saturday, January 20, 2007

John F. Hoffecker - A Prehistory of the North

John Hoffecker's book is an extrememly scholarly look at one of the oldest questions of archaeology - just how and when did humankind spread around the world. His particular concern here is how people came to live in the most inhospitable parts of the globe, when they did so, and how they succeded living in some of the coldest regions with the most primative of technologies.

Hoffecker starts way back. One of the skelton's he describes from Lake Turkana in Kenya dates from 1.53 million years ago. So far back it almost defies comprehension. The spread of humans from their place of origin in Africa, is not simply one of gradual exapansion. The book documents the waves of occupation that took place - climate changes often providing a trigger for human movements.

Human's have shown a remarkable ability to adapt to circumstances. And the circumstances sound unbelievable to us. Modern humans before 20,000 years ago, probably couldn't tolerate January mean temperatures of minus 30 Celcius, yet Hoffecker describes the changes to human anatomy that allowed some people to do just that.

This isn't an easy book to read - it's scholarly, but it's also academic and probably isn't aimed at the layperson, but it's worth reading if you have a bit of grounding in human evolution and climate change. At 140 pages it's probably one of the most succinct summaries of the issues.

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