Who are we? How do scientists define Homo sapiens, and how does our species differ from the extinct hominins that came before us? This illuminating book explores how the latest scientific advances, especially in genetics, are revolutionizing our understanding of human evolution. Paul Pettitt reveals the extraordinary story of how our ancestors adapted to unforgiving and relentlessly changing climates, leading to remarkable innovations in art, technology and society that we are only now beginning to comprehend.
Drawing on twenty-five years of experience in the field, Paul Pettitt immerses readers in the caves and rockshelters that provide evidence of our African origins, dispersals to the far reaches of Eurasia, Australasia and ultimately the Americas. Popular accounts of the evolution of Homo sapiens emphasize biomolecular research, notably genetics, but this book also draws from the wealth of information from specific excavations and artefacts, including the author’s own investigations into the origins of art and how it evolved over its first 25,000 years. He focuses in particular on behaviour, using archaeological evidence to bring an intimate perspective on lives as they were lived in the almost unimaginably distant past.
'An astonishing tale of art and science that goes right to the root of what it means to be human'
'Drawing on his many years of experience with Palaeolithic archaeology, Paul Pettitt’s expert account of our origins introduces the reader to the methods used to find out about the remote past and the complexities involved in interpretating this data. What comes across is a powerful message: when looking around you in awe of humanity’s cultural and technological achievements, bear in mind that, as the old saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of Ice Age giants'
João Zilhão, ICREA Research Professor, University of Barcelona
'The scope and detail here is sweeping, carrying the reader through tens of thousands of years. By grace of Pettitt’s long experience in the field and thorough immersion in the world of the Palaeolithic, there are a few stunning moments where even the most astonishing archaeology seems tangible'
'An excellent book, written with Paul's signature knowledge and enthusiasm. It should be required reading for everyone interested in our origins'