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The Cradle of Humanity

How the changing landscape of Africa made us so smart

Mark Maslin (Professor of Geography, University College London)



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Oxford University Press
01 February 2019
Humans are rather weak when compared with many other animals. We are not particularly fast and have no natural weapons. Yet Homo sapiens currently number nearly 7.5 billion and are set to rise to nearly 10 billion by the middle of this century. We have influenced almost every part of the Earth system and as a consequence are changing the global environmental and evolutionary trajectory of the Earth. So how did we become the world's apex predator and take over the planet? Fundamental to our success is our intelligence, not only individually but more importantly collectively. But why did evolution favour the brainy ape? Given the calorific cost of running our large brains, not to mention the difficulties posed for childbirth, this bizarre adaptation must have given our ancestors a considerable advantage. In this book Mark Maslin brings together the latest insights from hominin fossils and combines them with evidence of the changing landscape of the East African Rift Valley to show how all these factors led to selection pressures that favoured our ultrasocial brains. Astronomy, geology, climate, and landscape all had a part to play in making East Africa the cradle of humanity and allowing us to dominate the planet.
By:   Mark Maslin (Professor of Geography University College London)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 197mm,  Width: 139mm,  Spine: 17mm
Weight:   202g
ISBN:   9780198704539
ISBN 10:   0198704534
Pages:   272
Publication Date:   01 February 2019
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active
1: Introduction2: Early Human Evolution3: Tectonics and Climate4: Cradle of Humanity5: Global Climate Change6: Celestial Mechanics7: African Climate Pulses8: The Social Brain9: The Future of HumanityFurther ReadingIndex

Mark Maslin is Professor of Palaeoclimatology at University College London. He is a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award holder, a Royal Society Industry Fellow, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society. Maslin has published over 160 papers in journals such as Science and Nature on past and future climate change and its effects on the carbon cycle, human health, biodiversity, and human evolution. He is the author of Climate: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2013), and Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2014), now in its third edition.

Reviews for The Cradle of Humanity: How the changing landscape of Africa made us so smart

In this tale of mountains, monsoons, and meteorites, climate and ocean currents, Maslin masterfully puts human evolution into context, and shows how the earth and its environments have shaped us. * Professor Alice Roberts, anthropologist, author, and broadcaster * A powerful, gripping account of how the dynamic earth shaped human evolution... With impressive ease, Maslin packs a tremendous amount of knowledge into a flowing narraitve, making the point that special conditions for a number of species of tropical apes on the African continent eventually turned out to be luck... A tour de force through Earth's history and a timely reminder of just how lucky we are to be here at all. * Peter C. Kjaergaard, Director and Professor, Natural History Museum of Denmark * Understanding the emergence of our species from the unique landscapes of East Africa is one of the great scientific challenges. Mark Maslin takes us on an exhilarating intellectual journey, encompassing geology, astronomy, climate science and evolutionary biology, to argue that the unique landscape and ever-changing climate of the East African Rift Valley were instrumental in catalysing the emergence of a civilisation on our planet. I'm left with a dizzying feeling of our good fortune to be here at all, and a powerful sense of our responsibility, as Maslin notes, to earn our species name: Wise . * Professor Brian Cox * This book offers far more than a palaeoanthropological cocktail with a twist ... In synthesising the most recent research in palaeoanthropology and giving the ecology of our ancestors a climatological twist, Maslin has produced a book that is fascinating, humbling and informative. * Adrian Barnett, New Scientist * Anyone who reads The Cradle of Humanity will certainly be enlightened about this awe-inspiring journey. * Andrew Robinson, Current World Archaeology * Impressively in-depth and well-explained mix of encyclopaedic information... There is an amazing amount of information packed into this surprisingly slim book. * Chris Fitch, Geographical *

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