"Leading Book in Its Genre",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, June
of a book:
THE EVOLUTION OF MAN,
by David Pilbeam.
New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1970
Book in Its Genre"
THE EVOLUTION OF MAN.
By David Pilbeam
The World of Science Library. Funk & Wagnalls. 216 pages. 175 illustrations.
This brief text with its prolific illustrations covers the evolution of
man from its beginnings, say about 30 million years ago, to about 50,000 years
ago, at which time social evolution largely replaced physical evolution. The
author is one of the most promising of our younger physical anthropologists, an
Englishman who is now working with Professor E. L. Simons at Yale. In a field
which has a number of excellent books, this volume takes its place among the
leaders, especially for the earliest period.
The evidence for human evolution is plentiful, but it is so
fragmentary and scattered over such a long period that it can be fitted together
in many different ways. The Simons-Pilbeam sequence, worked out over the past
decade, accepts the genus Ramapithecus (about 14 million years ago) as a direct
ancestor of man, with Australpithecus africanus (who flourished from about 4
million to less than a million years ago) as an intermediate form between. This
scheme has won wide acceptance in recent years.
Because of the fragmentary nature of the evidence on man's physical
evolution and the dominance of tools in the evidence of his cultural evolution,
it is necessary to make considerable use of assumptions and inferences,
especially in regard to the less material aspects of his cultural evolution. The
relatively broad role played by conjecture in this subject has allowed writers
like Robert Ardrey (African Genesis) and Desmond Morris (The Naked Ape) to
produce exciting, if far-fetched, versions of man's early history. Pilbeam, like
most real experts in this field, will have nothing to do with these Hollywood
versions. He rejects any suggestion that early men were violent, competitive,
territorial, cannibalistic, or even carnivorous.
On the contrary, he feels that our ancestors, even before they
became human, lived in cooperative, non-territorial, open bands, so that
individuals were free to move from one band to another (p. 84). He accepts the
view of Professor Elman Service that such bonds had no hierarchical or dominance
structure, even of males over females.
As Pilbeam puts it, "Generosity, cooperation, and reciprocity tend
to be the norm, and it is fairly easy to see why. Without the most intense
cooperation between males in hunting and also between whole families in
foodsharing (which is not found among apes), this type of society would cease to
exist. Yet it existed for upwards of 2 million years." In this connection,
Pilbeam recognizes the fact, now generally accepted by students of primitive
hunting peoples, that early hunters had a diet in which meat probably never
reached 20 percent of total food intake and the major part of the other 80
percent was obtained by women through "gathering" activities.
The marks of the "Time-Life syndrome" lie heavily upon this volume:
the pictures often intrude on the text or are irrelevant to it (especially a
1896 photograph of a naked, half-breed Australian girl on page 198); captions
are often on different pages, generally opposite; many pages are not numbered;
there is no table of illustrations at the front, but a listing of their sources
at the back.
Even the text, for which Pilbeam is responsible, can be faulted.
This author has an excellent mind, fully aware of the differences between
evidence on one hand and names, words, or theories on the other hand. But he has
not taken the time, in this volume, to apply his mind to the evidence he knows
He knows that men had small canine teeth at least ten million years
before they acquired tools (that is 14 million versus less than 2 million years
ago), yet he says (p. 195), ''As tool replaced teeth as weapons, large male
canines grew smaller." He is justifiably sceptical of the overemphasis that
archaeologists put on tools, and says (p. 263) “We hominids did not live by
tools alone, and there is a great deal more to being human than just chipping a
few flints.'' But, as a student of human evolution, he tends to place too
exclusive evidence on bones and omits many things which should be mentioned in a
book on this subject, even one restricted to man's physical evolution. For
example, there is nothing here on how men became hairless, or why they increased
in size in the early Pleistocene (say, 2 million to 1 million years ago) from
about 55 inches tall 65 pounds to about 67 inches tall weighing 130 pounds.
Above all, there is nothing here on the effects of the rather
sudden increase in the size of the human brain about 600,000 years ago. This
change meant that women who went full term in gestation tended to die in
childbirth, while those who had premature births had a survival advantage, so
that human infants, as a whole, were born increasingly prematurely, and the
period of infantile helplessness was greatly extended.
In a similar way, Pilbeam has almost nothing to say about another
distinctive human characteristic, the disappearance of the oestrus cycle and the
ending, in the human female, of any connection between her fertility and her
readiness for sexual activity. Despite these difficulties, which seem to
indicate the author’s lesser concern with human evolution in the last million
years, this volume is a good introduction to the state of our present knowledge
of the subject during the earlier period of at least 30 million years.
— CARROLL QUIGLEY.