The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins, and the Invention of the Pleistocene
co-authored with Lydia V. Pyne [website]
"For science mavens of a philosophical bent, this may be the book of the year, a font of knowledge and, what's more and better, intellectual exercise."
- Ray Olson, Booklist
from the introduction
"Glacial epochs are great things, but they are vague - vague."
- Mark Twain
Mark Twain was right, but what makes the composite of glacial epochs known as the Pleistocene vague is also what makes it great. Among geologic epochs it has sought to embrace two unique events, each with a distinctive narrative and both at odds with the principles by which the rest of the geological timescale is ordered. . .
The first event is the sudden upheaval in global climate that manifested itself most spectacularly in continent-scale ice sheets and their geographic analogs in the form of massive lakes and deserts. The second event is the evolution of the modern hominins, whose tenure on Earth has, with equal force, both defined and confused the boundaries of the epoch. both evens are processes that translate into narratives. The first, or geographic, narrative tells how the epoch got its ice. The second, or hominin, narrative tells how it got its most distinctive creature. Both topics trace out, and then acting together like shears of a scissors, cut out the borders of the Pleistocene.
But more than simple natural events both ice and hominins are also ideas. That's what transfigures data points into story, adds cultural value, and creates understanding. Those ideas did not emerge by spontaneous generation of the mud of artifacts and sediment cores; they have their own historical settings, their own intellectual lineages, their own separate and collective narratives. They describe how the epoch acquired meaning. They tell how, as it were, the Pleistocene got its mind.
Ice, humans, ideas - the Last Lost World is the outcome of all three, flowing into and out of each other like braided channels on an outwash plain. In our own retelling we look to the sciences to identify the natural processes at work and to craft a basic chronology of events. But we look to other scholarships to comment on how such information becomes narrative and how an understanding of he Pleistocene plenum, including the evolution of hominins, has itself evolved.
For more, click on the sites below ~
Prologue: Mossel Bay, South Africa [pdf]
For the Page 99 test, click here and go to the July 5, 2012 entry.
For an annotated outline of the book, click here