Ardi and her discoverers shake up hominid evolution in ‘Fossil Men’

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Fossil MenKermit PattisonWilliam Morrow, $32.50

She is the most controversial, convention-defying, weirdest-looking fossil hominid ever found. Fittingly, the group that discovered this 4.4-million-year-old adult female, nicknamed Ardi, includes the most controversial, convention-defying (and some would say weirdest-acting) fossil hunters and bone analysts to have ever wrestled with the puzzle of how humans and our ancestors evolved.

In Fossil Men, journalist Kermit Pattison recounts intriguing backstories of the Ardi scientists and how they came to challenge popular views of hominid evolution. Many incidents in the book show the courage and grit it took to find and excavate Ardi in Ethiopia’s remote Middle Awash area, where local nomadic groups are prone to shoot at outsiders. Pattison also examines how Ardi’s skeleton makes her a one-of-a-kind find.

Standing at the center of this ancestral spectacle is team leader Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley. A demanding and intense taskmaster in the field, White has a hard-earned reputation as one of the all-time great fossil hunters. Pattison describes White as having remarkably keen eyes for assessing fossil bones and a knack for brutal, sarcastic takedowns of evolutionary arguments (and scientists) he finds deficient. In a published review of an …

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