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The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey

Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans

Christopher Beard

Publication Year: 2004

Taking us back roughly 45 million years into the Eocene, "the dawn of recent life," Chris Beard, a world-renowned expert on the primate fossil record, offers a tantalizing new perspective on our deepest evolutionary roots. In a fast-paced narrative full of vivid stories from the field, he reconstructs our extended family tree, showing that the first anthropoids—the diverse and successful group that includes monkeys, apes, and humans—evolved millions of years earlier than was previously suspected and emerged in Asia rather than Africa.

In The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey, Beard chronicles the saga of two centuries of scientific exploration in search of anthropoid origins, from the early work of Georges Cuvier, the father of paleontology, to the latest discoveries in Asia, Africa, and North America's Rocky Mountains. Against this historical backdrop, he weaves the story of how his own expeditions have unearthed crucial fossils—including the controversial primate Eosimias—that support his compelling new vision of anthropoid evolution. The only book written for a wide audience that explores this remote phase of our own evolutionary history, The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey adds a fascinating new chapter to our understanding of humanity's relationship to the rest of life on earth.

Published by: University of California Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii-vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xiii-xv

The story of human evolution has been told many times before, and it will no doubt continue to be revised and updated as new fossils are discovered. My goal in writing this book has been to add a much-needed prologue to what is now a familiar tale. If the major outlines of human origins are settled, the search for anthropoid origins remains scientifically ...

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1. Missing Links and Dawn Monkeys

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pp. 1-28

In rural China, the highest compliment you can get is not that you’re attractive or smart. It’s that you work really hard. As I shift to stay in the scant midday shade offered by a deep ravine on the northern bank of the Yellow River, this proletarian attitude makes a lot of sense. When I left the United States earlier this month, spring had barely begun. Checking the ...

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2. Toward Egypt’s Sacred Bull

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pp. 29-60

In the northern suburbs of Paris lies an artistic district known as Montmartre (“mount of the martyrs”). The area takes its name from events that transpired in the third century a.d., when a small cadre of Christian missionaries was dispatched to the Gallo-Roman city of Lutece, as Paris was known at the time. The prominence of Roman Catholicism ...

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3. A Gem from the Willwood

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pp. 61-86

In 1880, most of Wyoming Territory lay, at least proverbially, at the ends of the earth. This was particularly true of Wyoming’s northern two thirds, a remote and sparsely populated region that had been deliberately bypassed by the Union Pacific Railroad, whose completion about a decade earlier had brought both economic stimulus and rapid and reliable ...

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4. The Forest in the Sahara

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pp. 87-114

On the fringe of Egypt’s immense Western Desert, about sixty miles southwest of Cairo, a series of escarpments rises above a brackish lake known as Birket Qarun. In antiquity, the lake provided early Egyptian farmers with the rare opportunity to cultivate crops beyond the narrow strip of arable land lining the Nile Valley. Successive Egyptian ...

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5. Received Wisdom

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pp. 115-141

By the late 1980s, paleontologists had been successfully recovering fossil primates for more than 150 years. From the pioneering efforts of Georges Cuvier and Jacob Wortman to the more recent expeditions of Elwyn Simons, a burgeoning inventory of Greek and Latin names charted the latest revelations from the fossil record. Despite the confusing ...

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6. The Birth of a Ghost Lineage

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pp. 142-166

I fell in love with Wyoming the first time I saw the place. Back then, I could never have predicted that Wyoming’s vast, open basin and range country would play such a pivotal role in my career. But this is hardly surprising, since I also had no idea what type of career I might pursue. Like a lot of boys entering their awkward teenage years, I was far more ...

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7. Initial Hints from Deep Time

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pp. 167-193

Fertile fields and hillside vineyards whiz past the window in our compartment on the southbound TGV, the French version of a bullet train. My wife, Sandi, parcels out the food we’ve taken on board for lunch. Adhering to that well-worn maxim about “when in Rome,” we share a freshly baked baguette, some fruit, and a rich assortment of cheeses. Sandi ...

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8. Ghost Busters

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pp. 194-214

Less than a month after my return to the United States, I received a telephone call from Rich Kay, a well-known professor of biological anthropology and one of the world’s leading authorities on anthropoid origins. Rich told me that he, Elwyn Simons, and John Fleagle—another expert on primate anatomy and evolution, based at Stony Brook ...

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9. Resurrecting the Ghost

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pp. 215-245

Dusk still alters the scope and pace of daily activities in rural China, just as it affected countless human generations before the era of rural electrification projects. As I stroll the main avenue of Yuanqu, the county seat of this part of Shanxi Province, its nonfunctional street lamps actually work to my advantage. The hour is still early, and many ...

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10. Into the African Melting Pot

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pp. 246-276

According to the renowned philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn, science does not progress by marching slowly and steadily toward enlightenment. Rather, scientific advances occur in fits and starts. Most of the time, scientists go about their business in workmanlike fashion. They labor to reconcile assorted classes of data and observations with ...

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11. Paleoanthropology and Pithecophobia

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pp. 277-293

When it comes to figuring out where we stand with respect to the rest of Earth’s biotic diversity, we humans have always looked at nature through a narcissistic lens. It seems obvious that humans are special. The prevalence of this view comes as no great surprise, given that ours is the only literate, verbally gifted species on the planet. Alternative ...


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pp. 295-311

References Cited

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pp. 313-329


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pp. 331-348

Production Notes

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pp. 348-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780520940253
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520233690

Page Count: 363
Publication Year: 2004