The Ape in the Tree: An Intellectual & Natural History of Proconsul

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Harvard University Press, 2005 - Literary Criticism - 288 pages
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This book offers a unique insider's perspective on the unfolding discovery of a crucial link in our evolution: Proconsul, a fossil ape named whimsically after a performing chimpanzee called Consul.

The Ape in the Tree is written in the voice of Alan Walker, whose involvement with Proconsul began when his graduate supervisor analyzed the tree-climbing adaptations in the arm and hand of this extinct creature. Today, Proconsul is the best-known fossil ape in the world.

The history of ideas is set against the vivid adventures of Walker's fossil-hunting expeditions in remote regions of Africa, where the team met with violent thunderstorms, dangerous wildlife, and people isolated from the Western world. Analysis of the thousands of new Proconsul specimens they recovered provides revealing glimpses of the life of this last common ancestor between apes and humans.

The attributes of Proconsul have profound implications for the very definition of humanness. This book speaks not only of an ape in a tree but also of the ape in our tree.


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Luck and Unluck
Love and the Tree
An Arm and a Leg
The Lost and the Found
Back to the Miocene
An Embarrassment of Riches
How Did It Move?
How Many Apes?
Something to Chew On
More on Teeth
Listening to the Past
Pronunciation of African Words and Place Names

How Many Proconsuls7

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About the author (2005)

Alan Walker is Professor of Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. A Royal Society and MacArthur fellow, he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1996, he and Pat Shipman won the prestigious Rhone-Poulenc Award for The Wisdom of the Bones.

Pat Shipman is Professor of Anthropology at Pennsylvania State University. She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has won numerous awards and honors for her writing, including the 1997 Rhà ́ne-Poulenc Prize for The Wisdom of the Bones (coauthored with Alan Walker) and the Phi Beta Kappa Prize for Science for Taking Wing, which was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1998.

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