The Cultural Evolution of Hominim Fossils

Seven Skeletons: The Evolution of the World’s Most Famous Human Fossils, by Lydia Pyne, (Viking), 288 pages, release date 16 August, 2016

In Seven Skeletons, science historian Lydia Pyne takes an evolutionary approach to some of the world’s best know human fossils. This evolutionary approach includes discussion of these fossils’ places on the tree of hominim development, but its real focus is their post-discovery evolution—the way they became the cultural icons they are today.

While occasionally repetitive, Pyne’s approach is fresh and engaging. Some of these fossils made a scientific splash from the moment of their discovery, but others were initially ignored or undervalued. Pyne also spend time considering Piltdown man, originally hailed as “the first Englishmen,” but consigned to the ranks of ignominy when the fossils were revealed to be a hoax.

Most of the fossils discussed will seem like old friends to readers. Learning about their “afterlives” adds to our understanding not just of them, but of ourselves.


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