Digging Deep for the Human Factor

BONES OF CONTENTION Controversies in the Search for Human Origins. Roger Lewin. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987:348 pp. $19.95. Human beings can err. Not only can they err, they can be driven to error by their prejudices, their preconceptions, their personal rivalries, even their religious beliefs, all of whieh may color their assessmentof the data. That’s the theme of Bones of Contention, Roger Lewin’s look into the controversies that have bedeviled paleoanthropology through

Robert Kanigel
Nov 15, 1987

BONES OF CONTENTION

Controversies in the Search for
Human Origins. Roger Lewin. Simon
and Schuster, New York, 1987:348
pp. $19.95.

Human beings can err. Not only can they err, they can be driven to error by their prejudices, their preconceptions, their personal rivalries, even their religious beliefs, all of whieh may color their assessmentof the data. That’s the theme of Bones of Contention, Roger Lewin’s look into the controversies that have bedeviled paleoanthropology throughout its history as a science.

In one of several scientific quarrels that Lewin examines in satisfying depth, the dispute surrounds volcanic crystals of feldspar. Were they at least 2.4 million years old, thus proving that fossils from a precursor of man discovered by Richard Leakey in Ethiopia dated from the same period or earlier? Or only 1.9 million years old, as other evidence and lines of argument suggested?

Who cares? If the answer. changes how we...

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