Boaz, Noel T(homas) 1952-
BOAZ, Noel T(homas) 1952-
PERSONAL: Born February 8, 1952, in Martinsville, VA; son of T. Noel (in business) and Elena More (a social worker; maiden name, Taylor; present surname, Robertson) Boaz; married Dorothy Dechant (marriage ended); married Meleisa McDonell (a physician); children: Lydia Elena, Peter Vernon, Alexander McDonell. Education: University of Virginia, B.A. (with distinction), 1973; University of California—Berkeley, M.A., 1974, Ph.D., 1977.
CAREER: University of California—Los Angeles, lecturer in anthropology, 1977-78; New York University, New York, NY, assistant professor of anthropology, 1978-83; Virginia Museum of Natural History, Martinsville, director and curator, 1983-90; International Institute for Human Evolutionary Research, Bend, OR, founder, director, and foundation president, 1990—. Ross University, Portsmouth, Dominica, West Indies, professor of anatomy and director of research development for School of Medicine, 2000—. Field work includes direction of International Sahabi Research Project in Libya, Semliki Research Expedition in Republic of the Congo, and Western Rift Research Expedition in Uganda; forensic anthropologist for Physicians for Human Rights in Bosnia Project, 1999; affiliate of Paleoanthropology of Zhoukoudian, China, 1999-2000, and Dominica Centenarian Study, 2001-02. Virginia Museum of Natural History, foundation president, 1984-89.
MEMBER: American Association of Physical Anthropologists, American Association of Clinical Anatomists, American Anthropological Association, Explorers Club (fellow).
Paleoecology of Plio-Pleistocene Hominidae in the Lower Omo Basin, Ethiopia, privately printed (Berkeley, CA), 1977.
(Editor, with A. E. Arnanti, A. Gaziry, and others) Neogene Paleontology and the Geology of Sahabi, Libya, Alan Liss (New York, NY), 1987.
(Editor) The Evolution of Environments and Hominidae in the African Western Rift Valley, Virginia Museum of Natural History (Martinsville, VA), 1990.
Quarry: Closing In on the Missing Link, Free Press (New York, NY), 1993.
(With Alan J. Almquist) Biological Anthropology: A Synthetic Approach to Human Evolution, Prentice Hall (Upper Saddle River, NJ), 1997.
Eco Homo: How the Human Being Emerged from the Cataclysmic History of the Earth, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Alan J. Almquist) Essentials of Biological Anthropology, Prentice Hall (Upper Saddle River, NJ), 1999.
Evolving Health: The Origins of Illness and How the Modern World Is Making Us Sick, Wiley Publishing Group (New York, NY), 2002.
(With Russell L. Ciochon) Dragon Bone Hill: An Ice-Age Saga of Homo Erectus, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Noel T. Boaz once described himself to CA: "I am an anthropologist who writes professional papers and monographs on subjects relating to early hominid evolution, paleoecology, and biological anthropology. I have been doing research and publishing the results for about twenty years."
Boaz commented: "In 1993 I published my first book intended for a general audience, Quarry: Closing In on the Missing Link. I did this for several reasons. I believe that I have learned something in the last twenty years or so about why we are the way we are and how we got that way. Almost everyone is an anthropologist at some level: people have their own classification of the human species into types and 'races'; they have their own (usually intensely felt) ideas about their own origins, and they feel that they know better than anyone else how their minds and bodies work. So, it is not necessarily an easy task to attempt to tell people about themselves. Many times, however, our closely held folk beliefs about who we are and where we came from are wrong, and these misconceptions can have significant effects on how we deal with the rest of the world. In Quarry I attempted to tell something of how biological anthropologists go about their work, using a semiautobiographical vehicle for this. It was my hope that, by understanding the methods, one might become more convinced of the conclusions.
"I believe that much of what anthropologists do, particularly biological anthropologists, is of clear relevance to a wide range of human concerns and problems. Yet very little of an evolutionary perspective has made it into most discussions of public issues. Part of my mission as a writer is to help correct this situation. There is a widely held misconception that creationism and evolutionism are diametrically opposed polarities when it comes to looking at our origins, and this confusion has clouded the wider acceptance of our biological evolution. But creationism is not science, and evolutionism is not theology, and the twain will never meet. Because they are different, they are both compatible. It is time to move past this phantom barrier to more effective public education in science. A good national public school program in human biology could do wonders for such wide-ranging practical problems as teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and obesity, for example. People do not, in general, change their behavior because they are told to. They must understand their biology and gain a grasp of how their bodies work and have worked over the past millions of years."
In Eco Homo: How the Human Being Emerged from the Cataclysmic History of the Earth, "Boaz draws heavily from paleoecology and evolutionary biology, arguing forcefully that responses to global climatic changes provide answers [to many human evolution questions]," described a Publishers Weekly critic. Specifically, Boaz maintains that about six or seven million years ago the Mediterranean dried up, causing the forests in northern Africa to change into the Sahara. "The crucible of human evolution … may have been provided by fragmenting forests in an increasingly arid north Africa at that time," relayed Mark Ridley in the New York Times Book Review, adding that "this is an unorthodox view." "Most anthropologists think humans originated in eastern Africa—in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania." In Eco Homo, Boaz also suggests, as do many other scientists, that the transition to walking on two legs occurred in response to the shift from living in a forest to surviving in a savanna. Ridley reports that Boaz further explains how "climatic fluctuations in ice ages … [and] the glacial extremes and minimum temperatures of the ice age" resulted in "the large human brain and the origin of culture."
"The idea that all major changes in hominid anatomy and behavior arose strictly from climate is difficult to prove, since the climate shifted many times within the uncertain dates of evolution events," stated Will St. John in the Chicago Tribune, a concern which Ridley also noted. Reviewers of Eco Homo commonly recognized, and Boaz openly states in the book, that the book contains just hypotheses. Ridley more extremely warns that "Boaz's hypotheses remain not much more than conjectures…. I do suspect he has exaggerated the importance of the weather in the formative events of modern humanity." Nevertheless, Ridley commented that "Boaz has original ideas … [which] surely [contain] some truth" and concluded that Eco Homo is "stimulating and enjoyable to read" and is written with a "pleasant personal touch." And despite "[occasional] errors of explanation," St. John also believed the book to be "rich in ideas."
The book is "full of entertaining stories about the personalities behind the science…. [and] end[s] with nervous glances toward the future," pointed out Earth contributor Robert J. Coontz Jr., adding: "Boaz warns us not to take our own survival for granted." Boaz once commented to CA: "Most people accept that climate and the environment exert tremendous effects on human life today, but they are unaware of the even greater effects that climate change had on the evolutionary career of our species. With our greatly expanded view of past climates, we can now assess much more fully the correlation of climatic changes and human evolution. With this perspective of immense time depth to our adaptations, we can better understand our modern adaptations."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 1997, p. 1784; December 1, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of Dragon Bone Hill: An Ice-Age Saga of Homo Erectus, p. 637.
Chicago Tribune, September 15, 1997, Will St. John, review of Eco Homo: How the Human Being Emerged from the Cataclysmic History of the Earth, p. 3.
Choice, January, 1996, pp. 831-32.
Earth, February, 1998, Robert J. Coontz, Jr., review of Eco Homo, p. 62.
Journal of the American Medical Association, March 19, 2003, Bruce Rannala, review of Evolving Health: The Origins of Illness and How the Modern World Is Making Us Sick, p. 1442.
Library Journal, December, 2003, Gloria Maxwell, review of Dragon Bone Hill, p. 156.
New York Times Book Review, August 17, 1997, Mark Ridley, review of Eco Homo, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, June 2, 1997, review of Eco Homo, p. 61; November 3, 2003, review of Dragon Bone Hill, p. 61.
Science News, May 15, 2004, review of Dragon Bone Hill, p. 319.
SciTech Book News, June, 1999, review of Essentials of Biological Anthropology, p. 8.