Books : reviews

Clive Finlayson.
The Humans who Went Extinct: why Neanderthals died out and we survived.
OUP. 2009

Clive Finlayson.
The Improbable Primate: how water shaped human evolution.
OUP. 2014

We are improbable primates. We left the others eating fruit in the forest while we set off into the growing regions of savannah, developing the habit of walking on two legs, and varying our diet with meat. Over a central belt of the Earth the climate was drying, with sources of water becoming broken up and scattered, precisely where humans were living. Our evolution was driven by and played out in the context of access to water.

In this intriguing and provocative book, Clive Finlayson gives a new view of human evolution which draws on ecology to interpret the fossil evidence. It is an account of a single human species, split into groups that tackled the challenge of new landscapes as they spread across the world. Without water, we quickly die; and it was the need to reach water, he argues, that shaped our bodies, lengthening our limbs and driving the development of our brains.