Steven Mithen is Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Early Prehistory at the University of Reading. His books include The Prehistory of the Mind, After the Ice: A Global Human History, The Singing Neanderthals, and, most recently, Thirst: Water and Power in the Ancient World.
 (November 2016)


Our 86 Billion Neurons: She Showed It

Suzana Herculano-Houzel, head of the Laboratory of Comparative Neuroanatomy at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, August 2015

The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable

by Suzana Herculano-Houzel
Reading about the brain is as fascinating as it is demanding. During the last decade we have had a steady stream of books purporting to explain how the brain works and its relationship to mind, consciousness, creativity, and many other qualities that might give us humans an advantage over other types of animals. Is human distinctiveness attributable to mirror neurons, quantum mechanics, or the inferior frontal gyrus (or fold) in the cortex? What a relief to have a book that provides an answer as simple as it is convincing. Suzana Herculano-Houzel suggests that the human advantage lies in the 86 billion neurons that are packed into a mere 1,400 grams of matter in the human brain.

On Ancestor Apes in Europe

A model of Homo naledi, a newly discovered species of ape, at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, Maropeng, South Africa, September 2015

The Real Planet of the Apes: A New Story of Human Origins

by David R. Begun
How many apes do you know? I don’t mean as individuals but as types, or if you wish to be scientific about it, as genera: subdivisions of biological families. Well, I’m sure you can name the chimpanzee (which has the generic name Pan) and the gorilla (Gorilla) for the African …

Most of Us Are Part Neanderthal

A diorama of a Neanderthal family cooking mussels near the Devil’s Tower rock shelter at Gibraltar, on the Mediterranean Sea; from the Field Museum, Chicago, early 1970s

Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes

by Svante Pääbo

The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals

by Thomas Suddendorf
Archaeologists and physical anthropologists have long debated the evolutionary relationship between modern humans and Neanderthals, relying on the similarities and differences between their designs of stone artifacts and the shapes of their bones, with little real understanding of how these might have arisen. Interminable academic arguments have been swept away by the revolution in studies of ancient DNA, led by Svante Pääbo and brilliantly recounted in his new book, Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes.

A Passion for Jungle People and Birdsong

A warrior in Papua New Guinea looking through binoculars for the first time, 1973

The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

by Jared Diamond
Thank goodness for being WEIRD—for living in a Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic world rather than in prehistory. Otherwise life might be an endless round of tribal warfare and diarrhea. I might have to strangle my sister if her husband died and kill my newborn baby if it looked …

How Fit Is E.O. Wilson’s Evolution?

Edward O. Wilson at the ‘Darwin’ exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, 2005

The Social Conquest of Earth

by Edward O. Wilson
I read E.O. Wilson’s 1975 book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis in 1979 while I was an undergraduate studying archaeology. Along with The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976), Sociobiology transformed my view of the world, leading me away from a concern with the typology of stone tools and ceramics to …

Freedom Through Cooking

A chimpanzee mother and daughter eating pieces of a hand-carved pumpkin at the Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia, October 31, 2005.

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

by Richard Wrangham

Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants, and the Origins of Language

by Dean Falk
Who’s cooking your dinner? Who’s looking after your kids? If you are a man, it is probably the woman—or women—in your life. You know that women mainly do the daily domestic grind. And so it has been, not just throughout history but also throughout the last two million years of …