Tattersall, Ian (Michael) 1945-
TATTERSALL, Ian (Michael) 1945-
CAREER: New School for Social Research, New York, NY, visiting lecturer, 1971-72; Lehman College, City University of New York, New York, NY, adjunct assistant professor, 1971-74, adjunct professor of anthropology; American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, assistant curator, 1971-76, associate curator, 1976-81, curator of physical anthropology, 1981—.
MEMBER: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Anthropological Association, American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Society of Systematic Zoology, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Man's Ancestors: An Introduction to Primate and Human Evolution, Murray, 1970.
(Editor, with R. W. Sussman) Lemur Biology, Plenum, 1975.
The Primates of Madagascar, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1982.
(With Niles Eldredge) The Myths of Human Evolution, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1982.
The Human Odyssey: Four Million Years of Human Evolution, Prentice Hall General Reference (New York, NY), 1993.
Primates: Lemurs, Monkeys, and You, Millbrook Press (Brookfield, CT), 1995.
The Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know about Human Evolution, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1998.
The Last Neanderthal: The Rise, Success and Mysterious Extinction of Our Closest Human Relatives, Westview (Boulder, CO), new edition, 1999.
(With Jeffrey H. Schwartz) Extinct Humans, Westview (Boulder, CO), 2000.
The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2002.
(With Jeffrey H. Schwartz) The Human Fossil Record, Volume 1: Terminology, and Craniodental Morphology of Genus Homo, Wiley (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to numerous scientific journals and popular magazines.
SIDELIGHTS: English paleontologist Ian Tattersall has written several popular books about human evolution. In The Myths of Human Evolution, he examines certain misconceptions the public has about the theory of evolution. Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness is a study of early human behavior in psychological terms. In Extinct Humans Tattersall argues that the history of human evolution is not one of a single continuous development but rather of various branches, some of which failed and one of which resulted in contemporary human beings.
Tattersall believes that scientists are influenced by their culture. A case in point, according to Tattersall, is nineteenth-century British naturalist Charles Darwin's theory that evolution is a slow, gradual process. Darwin's "gradualism," as Tattersall and coauthor Niles Eldredge point out in their 1982 book The Myths of Human Evolution, is one of the "myths" that became incorporated into the theory of evolution in spite of insufficient evidence. The authors themselves are proponents of "punctuationism," a hypothesis that the life of species consists of long periods of stagnation interrupted by brusque transformations, and, as J. R. Durant recounted in the Times Literary Supplement, Tattersall and Eldredge "attribute the general tendency among Darwinian biologists to explain evolution in terms of constant, adaptive change to the pernicious influence of the Victorian idea of social progress." While critics found the argument for punctuationism convincing, they were skeptical about the authors' attempt to apply this hypothesis to social history. As David Graber of the Los Angeles Times asserted, this approach may be valid, "but it's hardly a new idea." However, Graber praised The Myths of Human Evolution as "better balanced" than other books on the same topic, such as Richard E. Leakey's The Making of Mankind or Donald C. Johanson and Maitland A. Edey's Lucy.
In The Myths of Human Evolution, Tattersall and Eldredge also challenge the notion of creationism, a religious explanation of natural history. According to the book's authors, creationism is another "myth of human evolution," and should be approached as a cultural phenomenon, an "aspect of American populism." Washington Post Book World's Edwin M. Yoder, Jr. concurred with this analysis of creationism, observing that "the validity of a scientific proposition cannot be tested by majority opinion or vote." Furthermore, critics maintained that the book's discussion of myths, both within and outside the realm of science, dispels much of the confusion surrounding the conflict between creationists and the scientific community. As Yoder concluded, Tattersall and Eldredge show "that the creationist controversy is as much a social and pedagogical crisis as a crisis in science."
In Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness, Tattersall attempts to delineate "the cognitive difference between humans, their ancestral species, and their closest living relatives, the great apes," as Gilbert Taylor recounted in Booklist. As Shaun Calhoun noted in Library Journal, Tattersall "reveals our species' unique characteristics, including language, symbolic thought, art, and innovation." In making his case, the critic for Publishers Weekly remarked, Tattersall consults "the fossil record for corroboration of the innovations he takes to be significant." "A felicitous writer," Taylor concluded, "Tattersall gracefully summarizes what science knows for certain about human origins and indicates areas, such as language development, where debate rages."
In Extinct Humans, written with Jeffrey H. Schwartz, Tattersall traces the evolution of human beings in a manner far different than that usually taught in school. He finds that existing fossil evidence can be best explained not as a single line of human development leading from the early apes to modern humans but as a number of different branches. Some of these branches died out while other branches flourished. "Hominid history," wrote the critic for Publishers Weekly, "ought to look less like a queue than like a tree." The book explains, according to Taylor, "why the idea of the one-track, lineal descent of human beings is obsolete." H. James Birx in Library Journal called Extinct Humans "a clear and detailed overview of fossil hominid evidence and its various interpretations" and concluded that "this impressive and indispensable book is a very important contribution to modern paleoanthropology."
Speaking to Amy Otchet in the UNESCO Courier, Tattersall explained: "Somehow we believe it is normal and natural for us to be alone in the world. Yet in fact, if you look at the fossil record, you find that this is totally unusual—this may be the first time that we have ever had just one species of humans in the world. We have a history of diversity and competition among human species which began some five million years ago and came to an end with the emergence of modern humans. Two million years ago, for example, there were at least four human species on the same landscape."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Monkey in the Mirror, p. 27.
Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Shaun Calhoun, review of Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniquenss, p. 95; June 1, 2000, H. James Birx, review of Extinct Humans, p. 188; September 15, 2001, H. James Birx, review of The Monkey in the Mirror, p. 107.
Los Angeles Times, December 26, 1982, David Graber, review of The Myths of Human Evolution.
Natural History, December, 2001, review of The Monkey in the Mirror, p. 82.
New Scientist, March 9, 2002, Bernard Wood, review of The Monkey in the Mirror, p. 52.
Publishers Weekly, January 19, 1998, review of Becoming Human, p. 363; July 2, 2001, p. 59.
Times Literary Supplement, February 18, 1983, J. R. Durant, review of The Myths of Human Evolution.
UNESCO Courier, December, 2000, Amy Otchet, "Ian Tattersall: The Humans We Left Behind," p. 47.
Washington Post Book World, December 26, 1982, Edwin M. Yoder, Jr., review of The Myths of Human Evolution.
City University of New York Graduate Center Web site,http://web.gc.cuny.edu/anthropology/fac_tattersall.html/ (December 11, 2002).*