Before the Dawn

Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

Nicholas Wade
Paperback edition 2007

Recent discoveries have enabled us to answer such long-standing questions about human evolution as: What was the first human language like? How large were the first societies, and how warlike were they? When did our ancestors first leave Africa, and by what route did they leave?

reconstruction of Australopithecus afarensis
Australopithecines begin the human line

About 6.5 million to 5 million years ago, some 100,000 apes, the ancestors of today’s apes and humans, lived in East Africa in a forest shrinking due to climate cooling. There were two kinds of survivors of the climate change: one stayed with what was left of the forest and continued as before and it led to the chimpanzee; the other was the beginning of the human line, it survived by occupying the trees and the new spaces in between them. The human split from the chimpanzee occurred some 5-6 million years ago. These ancestors could survive in both terrains because of their critical new ability: to walk upright on two feet.


About the Book’s Author: Nicholas Wade is a British-born scientific reporter, editor and author who currently writes for the Science Times section of The New York Times. Wade was born in Aylesbury, England and educated at Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge. He is the author of several books including The Nobel DuelBetrayers of the Truth (co-authored with William J. Broad) and The Faith Instinct.

More from Nicholas Wade in The New York Times:

Fossils in a case

New Fossils May Redraw Human Ancestry

An apelike creature with human features, whose fossil bones were discovered in a South African cave, is being greeted by paleoanthropologists as a likely watershed in the understanding of human evolution.


Lake

24,000-Year-Old Body Shows Kinship to Europeans and American Indians

The genome of a young boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia some 24,000 years ago has turned out to hold two surprises for anthropologists.


Lake

Clues of Britain’s First Humans

The genome of a young boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia some 24,000 years ago has turned out to hold two surprises for anthropologists.


Skulls

Study Finds Humans Still Evolving, and Quickly

Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times

The pace of human evolution has been increasing at a rate 100 times faster than when our ancestors first began spreading through Europe, Asia, and Africa 40,000 years ago.


The Gap

The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals

Thomas Suddendorf

A leading research psychologist concludes that our abilities surpass those of animals because our minds evolved two overarching qualities.


book cover for She Has Her Mother’s Laugh

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh

The Powers, Perversions and Potential of Heredity

Carl Zimmer

Our understanding of heredity has come a long way and holds much promise, but we’ll need wise judgement to manage the emerging science of genetic engineering.


In the series



Further Reading