For all couchbound ramblers Walking with Cavemen will be another very welcome addition to the collection of BBC natural history spin-offs and will presumably complete the set that began with Walking with Dinosaurs.
Walking with Cavemen selects eight of our 20 or so extinct human relatives beginning with Australopithecus afarensis--small, upright, walking ape-like relatives who lived around 3.5 million years ago--and dramatises their various lifestyles. To be picky these were not cavemen but some of the earliest human relatives to move out of the protection of the trees into the more dangerous grasslands. However, there is no other simple catchall name for these ancestors--Walking with Hominids might not have quite the same public appeal. Nevertheless, this fascinating story of our ancestry is supported by numerous features explaining various aspects of the science behind the reconstructions. This is very necessary, for as with the dinosaur and extinct mammal stories, so much modelling and conjecture is sometimes based on fairly skimpy information. But this is pretty well state-of-the-art reconstruction and does an excellent job of bringing this otherwise somewhat neglected aspect of our deep past to light. Apart from the Neanderthals or perhaps Lucy, how many other extinct human relatives can you name? It is a pity the science is not supported by any further reading list or even appropriate Web site pointers.
Louise Barrett is an academic biological anthropologist at Liverpool University who specialises in ape behaviour. She has also authored some other very successful books of this kind such as Cousins, so we get not only an authoritative text but also a very readable one. John Lynch is a well-known producer of BBC TV science films and wrote the recent Wild Weather book. We have come to expect splendid illustrations and computer graphics from the TV programmes and their accompanying books and we get them here. In the richly illustrated Walking with Cavemen the still photos are mostly of human computers dressed to kill in amazing body suits and full facial prosthetics that must have been sheer hell to work in. Many of the images are really outstanding but in some the modelling looks less convincing. There are still some images that blend computer graphics of the odd mammoth and giant deer and there are plenty of naked bodies to satisfy naturists as well as naturalists. Reading Walking with Cavemen in the safety of your own home is certainly the most comfortable way to relive the trials and tribulations of our ancestors' lives. Imagine being spied upon by Robert Winston all the time. -- Douglas Palmer [via]