The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack: And Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution
by Ian Tattersall
Palgrave Macmillan, 2015 (($27))
Around when Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was published, scientists were puzzled by ancient human bones discovered in 1856 Germany that featured a prominent browridge. Rather than considering that the remains belonged to a species separate from modern humans, some researchers at the time attributed the skeleton to a Cossack horseman with a painful condition of rickets that caused him to furrow his brow until the bone above his eyes grew. The incident demonstrates how scientists' own biases have often influenced their interpretation of what the fossil record was telling them. “Received wisdoms about human evolution have always conditioned what we have believed about our own origins, often in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary,” writes Tattersall, an emeritus curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In this book, he highlights the controversial ideas and colorful personalities that have shaped paleoanthropology and given rise to our current understanding of how we became human.