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The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past Hardcover – November 10, 2020
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One of A Mighty Girl's 2020 Books of the Year
"In a field of celebrity scientists, nobody shines brighter than Meave Leakey. She was once the scion, and is now matriarch, of the Leakey dynasty, three generations of paleoanthropological royalty...[She] tells her extraordinary life story in The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past. Co-written with her youngest daughter, Samira, this inspirational autobiography stands among the finest scientist memoirs."
—New York Times Book Review
"An excellent overview of how we know what we know about human evolution . . . Meave Leakey is a real-life Indiana Jones. Her life has been filled with adventure, struggle, and discovery after amazing discovery that are detailed in her riveting autobiography, The Sediments of Time."
"The Sediments of Time is a fascinating glimpse into our origins. Meave Leakey is a great storyteller, and she presents new information about the far off time when we emerged from our ape-like ancestors to start the long journey that has led to our becoming the dominant species on Earth. That story, woven into her own journey of research and discovery, gives us a book that is informative and captivating, one that you will not forget."
—Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute
“An exciting and richly informative scientist’s autobiography…This major work of scientific dedication and original insight illuminates both our distant past and our current, serious, human-caused planetary challenges.”
—Booklist Review *starred*
“Attentive readers of Meave Leakey’s masterful memoir,
"For over 50 years, British-born palaeoanthropologist Meave Leakey has been unearthing fossils of our early ancestors in Kenya’s Turkana Basin. Her discoveries have changed how we think about our origins. Instead of a tidy ape-to-human progression, her work suggests different pre-human species living simultaneously. Leakey’s new memoir, The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past, co-written with her daughter Samira, reflects on her life in science and pieces together what we now understand about the climate-driven evolution of our species."
“An engaging memoir...A marvelous account of what it is like for a celebrated scientist to take on some of the most vital and vexing questions regarding human origins and to come up with biocultural answers.”
“Meave describes a life that many readers will envy. Her discoveries, often after numbingly tedious work in a brutal climate, added new species to our family tree, teased out more information about existing ancestors, and increased our knowledge of how evolution, geology, and climate change gave rise to modern humans. She is not shy about explaining all this....An illuminating memoir of an impressive scientist.”
"Fossils, hyaenas, and eccentric scientists almost literally jump off the page in Meave Leakey's exuberant memoir. This riveting read takes you on the unplanned but glorious adventure that has been Meave's life of discovery. Her love of learning and quest for knowledge about our origins inspire every page and will set your mind alight!"
—Nina G. Jablonski, PhD, Penn State University, Author of Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color
“Meave Leakey confronts extraordinary challenges that ultimately yield unimaginably rich rewards. THE SEDIMENTS OF TIME offers everything for everyone: exciting fossil finds, courageous expeditions, seminal paleoanthropological contributions to science, and convincing scientific evidence to support climate change. Meave has labored five decades filling the gaps in Homo sapien’s 3+ million year journey of evolution. She also verifies global climate change by analyzing fossil teeth, 800,000 year old ocean floor ice cores, and Milankovitch’s sun-earth alignment to explain global glaciation and torrid periods. She is a researcher extraordinaire."
—Gilbert Grosvenor, Former President and Chairman of National Geographic
"Involved for five decades in collecting, describing and interpreting an extraordinary range of fossils critical to understanding human evolution, Meave Leakey and her daughter Samira present us here with a welcome and accomplished example of accessible science writing in this engaging and deeply informed book."
—David Pilbeam, PhD, Henry Ford II Research Professor of Human Evolution, Harvard University
"A fascinating memoir and whirlwind tour of research into human origins by one of the preeminent explorers of our age; an inspiration for new generations of researchers and the wider public alike.”
—Fred Spoor, PhD, Natural History Museum, U.K.
"Meave Leakey has long been recognized as one of the world’s leading paleoanthropologists. In this memoir, Meave recounts her East African field expeditions and shares broad insights into anatomy, geology, paleontology, botany, language, and human behavior. Her contributions to solving some the puzzles of human evolution illustrate how field and laboratory work, analytical studies, and long-term collaborations work together to shape scientific knowledge. Hers is a remarkable and inspiring life story."
—Thure Cerling, PhD, Francis Brown Presidential Chair, University of Utah
"As the daughter-in-law of renowned paleoanthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey, Meave Leakey had big shoes to fill — and she did so with gusto . . . This is the story not just of Leakey's life and discoveries, but also of how our species' past could help us define and understand our future."
—A Mighty Girl, 2020 Books of the Year
About the Author
SAMIRA LEAKEY obtained a BA in politics with first-class honours from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and a master’s degree in public administration from Princeton University. Samira worked at the World Bank in Washington, DC, and now lives in Nairobi with her daughter.
- Publisher : Mariner Books (November 10, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0358206677
- ISBN-13 : 978-0358206675
- Item Weight : 1.35 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.26 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #460,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Meave Leakey, 2020
Who were the predecessors of modern humans? What were they like and where and when did they evolve into modern humans? The name Leakey has been almost synonymous with these questions for the last 70 years. Starting with Louis and Mary Leakey at Olduvai gorge, Tanzania in the 1950’s and 1960’s through Meave and Richard Leakey at Lake Turkana in Kenya, theirs has been a relentless quest for the origins and knowledge of our ancient ancestors. Meave Leakey’s new book is at one an autobiography of her life as a fossil hunter, paleoanthropologist but also an account of our most recent knowledge of human origins.
Imagine confronting this problem: a hundred jigsaw puzzles all mixed up together in a huge sandbox full of rocks and sand. This is the conundrum of the fossil hunter. Mixed together are pieces of teeth and bone form hundreds of different species of animals and also ancient humans all dispersed in a rock or rubble matrix. You have to be able to distinguish a piece of skull, mandible or molar of an ancient hominin from that of an ape, wild dog or hundreds of other contemporaneous creatures. Once you have sifted and sorted out the pieces, then you meticulously assemble and fit the pieces together to create a recognizable and scientifically useful specimen. At that point you begin the arduous collaborative and mental task of determining where and when the artifact fits into the scheme of human evolution. Such is the life of a fossil hunter depicted here.
Reading this book is somewhat akin to a lesson in human and primate skeletal anatomy. How does hominin anatomy differ from an ape? One fascinating thing you will learn is the extreme importance of the opposable thumb and flexible wrist in human evolution. An ape has a thumb about half the size of a human thumb. Our ability to precisely manipulate objects and construct precision tools are wholly dependent on this feature. The ape grasping hand is adapted to arboreal life in the trees. Bend your thumb at the knuckle and then try to pick up a pencil between your forefinger and thumb knuckle and you will understand how useful the adaptation of an opposable thumb would be. Bipedalism was crucial in freeing the use of manipulative hands and fossil evidence from East Africa indicates that both manipulative hands and bipedalism preceded the evolution of large brains by millions of years. Would our extraordinary large brains have evolved without these prior crucial developments? Probably not.
Bipedal remains in Africa date back approximately 4 million years ago. Why did the evolution of Hominins happen? Leakey’s and other’s researchers have concluded this development coincided with the onset of the Pleistocene age when the earth’s climate went into glacial cycles of about 100,000 years. Coincidentally geological forces caused the subsistence of the eastern rift valley. These two effects caused this part of East Africa to become dryer and resulted in forested areas becoming savannas. The increased mobility of a bipedal gait in this environment enabled a long-range food gathering advantage.
My take: Evolution seems to favor the evolution of mind and intelligence. In numerous separate instances brains have evolved in cephalopods, dolphins and mammals. In East Africa there was a rare concurrence of climatological, geological, and biologic factors that led to Homo Sapiens. The evolution of large brains coincided not only with bipedalism but crucially hands with the ability of precise object manipulation. Without all these attributes our domination of the planet and our development of complex technological civilization would not have been possible. Run this whole life on earth play over again and most likely we would not be here. My speculation: Does intelligent life exist elsewhere in the universe? Almost certainly. Do complex technological civilizations such as ours exist in the universe? Maybe but certainly a much rarer occurrence.
What makes this such a great book is that it combines the very compelling story of Meave’s life and experiences in East Africa with a compendium of reams of information on hominin evolution. Meave tells us who she thinks we humans are in the epilogue to her book:
“It is our primate ancestry that we owe the morphological and behavioral patterns that thus far have been to our immense benefit. But today, this heritage is a double-edged sword that could be our undoing. The unfortunate fact is that we are a greedy, acquisitive, and destructive species by nature – like monkeys. Do not mistake me, for I have loved monkeys ever since my early days caring for them at the Tigoni Research Centre. But when baboons breach the barriers we have erected and get into our vegetable garden, the destruction is a sight to behold and lament. They invariably leave a trail of devastation behind them. Half-eaten carrots, tomatoes flung about, and maize and potato plants ripped ruthlessly from the ground testify more to a destructive intent and willful gratification than to a pattern of sustainable foraging. The monkeys are doing no more than what we humans are doing on a far grander scale all over the planet – with our depletion of the oceans through overfishing and a wanton disregard for the bycatch, our unchecked logging in forests, our clearing of huge tracts of land for agriculture and urban settlements, our ever-increasing pollution of the atmosphere with chemicals and carbon dioxide, and our profligate, wanton, and senseless overconsumption and dumping of single-use plastic that has resulted in garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas. ---- Our footprint on the planet is so large that geologists have now designated a new epoch, Anthropocene, for our labours are now indelibly in new layers of sediments and the scars we have recorded in the earth’s surface. If we don’t survive, the rocks will bear witness to the havoc that we have wrought long after we are gone”.
Surely, we can have more wisdom than a troop of Baboons. Watching the events that occurred at our capital last month certainly gives one pause on that question. Meave and researchers like her have done an invaluable service, have opened the door to our true origins, where we come from and who we really are as a species. JACK
This dynamic is combined with endless detail about digs and human, ape and other mammalian genealogy — really, a professional text’s worth. I was moderately interested in the big picture — when humans became humans, how, where — but this course in paleontology and related professions exceeded my interest.
The reader is on site, breathless as skulls,jaws and thigh bones are pulled out of the sediment
Top reviews from other countries
I highly recommend this book, beautifully written alongside her husband Richard ,the lovely outlay and photo's. I'm overjoyed I have bought this book, which holds an honoured place - congratulations Maeve for such a rich book enriching the Leakey legacy .. and to think Louis had the intuition how important she would be to them that day in London when he interviewed her!
El libro cuenta la trayectoria profesional de Meave Leakey en el campo de la Paleoantropología, y es un excelente libro.