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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just Finished Reading: The Incredible Human Journey – The Story of How We Colonised the Planet by Alice Roberts

I remember catching a few episodes or bits of episodes of this excellent BBC series and thinking two things: how gorgeous and delightful the presenter was and how interesting and well presented the information/story was. So when I saw the book I jumped at the opportunity to explore the subject in more depth.

Dr Robert’s writing style is very chatty and, in this volume at least, very personal and down to earth. Having heard her speak before on TV I found that, rather than reading words off the page, it was like listening to her tell me about the journey she made across the world following in our ancestors footsteps – literally as we basically colonised the planet on foot – from Africa, across the Middle East, into the Far East and India, across the sea via island hopping to Australia, a later move into Europe and then finally across the land-bridge over what is now the Bering Strait, down North America and into South America. Following the archaeological evidence as far as it went – which is very patchy and sometimes deeply disputed in some areas – and the more recent breakthroughs in DNA analysis Dr Roberts made a very good case indeed for the Out of Africa Hypothesis (so much so as to make it as close to fact as we’re likely to get) after bringing up and addressing the major counter proposals. She also made a good case for how early humans crossed to Australia – obviously in boats that, because of their very nature, left no archaeological evidence behind them and even travelled a short distance between islands on a bamboo raft that would not have been outside the capabilities of our ancestors at the time.

That was one great thing I liked about the book. It was the authors have a go attitude. Not only did she risk crossed the Pacific Ocean (or at least a little part of it) on bamboo but she also crossed the arctic tundra practically freezing in her state-of-the-art clothing only to be rescued from frostbite by the gift of a pair of locally made reindeer boots, she bedded down on the African plain protected only by a collection of thorn bushes and listened with dread to the noises of animals – including lions – using a near-by waterhole in the pitch-black dead of night. She’s definitely braver than I am! She is also clearly fascinated by the history of our species and this fascination communicates itself throughout the book. This is a woman not only passionate about her subject but one able enough to communicate the sometimes detailed and difficult information to a non-specialist audience. Although I have had a very long and abiding interest in all things scientific I am the first to admit that I am not a scientist. That being said, Dr Roberts did not lose my attention once and I now know a great deal more about our ancestry and how, over thousands of years we managed to move into and thrive in very different environments across the globe and thereby become arguably the dominant life form on the planet. If you’ve ever wondered where we came from and how we moved from just another ape-like creature in Africa to the peoples we are today them this is definitely the book for you. Very highly recommended. More on this subject and from the delightful Alice to come.   

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