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More than just a pile of bones

White, a biologist mentioned in The Wild Life of our Bodies, happens upon a pile of bones he soon comes to call Ardi, short for Ardipithecus ramidas and becomes both fascinated and obsessed with the implications of this newly found form’s existence.  As a reader, I was taken back by the ability of the author, Rob Dunn’s, ability to tie something as simple as happening upon a fossil into a vast analysis of the development of the modern man.  He explores the classic topics, such as the discovery of fire, all the way to what he believes makes us humans. In a confident and most likely controversial statement, he claims humans are separate because we chose to be. We, as “simple” creatures with genetic makeup unnervingly close to that of chimpanzees, chose to claim our place at top of the food chain.  My own personal religious beliefs are not exactly parallel to Dunn’s, but I love his ability as an author to grasp the reader’s attention and explain the reason for our existence through witty but strong claims.  As Dunn describes White’s journey to unveiling the mystery behind these bones, one quote resonates through my mind; “White could not prove where they belonged on the tree of life.” I love this quote because it gives life to the past and reminds us that we all come from a common seed, grown into the fully evolved and dominant human race of today. So, where do we belong on the tree of life? This generation will shape the future, for better or for worse.

4 comments to More than just a pile of bones

  • mollyo92

    I definitely agree with your assessment of Dunn’s writing style. He does an excellent job of grabbing the reader and creating an image. I was especially taken by the image of the 2 feet of sand on top of Ardi’s remains, and the picture of the changes the world underwent after her death. The simple 2 feet of sand separating our world from Ardi’s seems so insignificant, yet Dunn really paints a picture of crucial those 2 feet really were in the development of modern humans. Even from the first moment you open the book, Dunn grabs you and pulls you into his world, and even by the end of the first chapter you find yourself yearning to live in a simpler time, ages ago, when humans were in harmony with nature. That being said, I think Dunn’s captivating writing, as beautiful and whimsical as it may be, is really the method he uses to camouflage a lack of real evidence for his claims. As I found myself dreaming of this “simpler time,” I began to think on the concept a little more and realize this time was a harsh, short and dangerous reality. The developments humanity has made have not only given humans more anxiety and more disease, but it has also lengthened human lifespans and saved many people from cruel and horrible deaths. I really do enjoy reading Dunn, and I think there is much to be said about his writing ability when you really consider the lack of support that he offers for his claims.

  • corim14

    It’s easy to see why Dunn’s statement that we chose to claim our place at the top of the food chain is controversial. From a biological standpoint, I find this statement a bit misleading. Every species is internally hardwired to live in such a way that promotes it’s own survival and propagation of future generations. Chimps did not “choose” to be the apes living in the jungle instead of the apes building cities–genetics and natural selection simply didn’t work out in their favor. It’s only natural for a species to use whatever advantages it has to out-compete every other living creature for survival. The positive feedback loops associated with this principle generally ensure success. We made the same choices any other species does with regards to ensuring our own survival–we were just lucky enough that our DNA usually came out on top.

  • loomispw

    Asking whether we chose to take a spot at the top of the food chain is essentially asking whether we have free will or our actions are determined, in this case by a genetic imperative. I’d argue that while individuals may have consciously made choices to kill off competitors or predators, we were going to take our place on the food chain one way or another, by virtue of our adaptability to different climates and resource sets across the world.

    • meganimals17

      I agree that the human race was destined to prevail no matter what, but I do not agree with Dunn’s general reason for it. His claim is bold and intriguing, but he does not go on to support why we magically became top dog. I see your point that genetically, we as humans have many advantages, but I do not feel that Dunn supports his theory with that as well. We each have personal beliefs about how humans became the dominant species, and I wish Dunn would have gone further in describing and supporting his. Overall though, he is a respectable writer and brings up important issues.

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