Magazine article Natural History

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Magazine article Natural History

Bookshelf

Article excerpt

Catapults, trebuchets, and gunpowder, according to environmental historian Alfred W Crosby in Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology Through History (Cambridge University Press), can be traced back to our ancestors' aptitude for hurling stones and manipulating fire. Evolutionary psychologist Michael C. Corballis, however, makes the case in From Hand to Mouth: The Origins of Language (Princeton University Press) that a more profound step in Homo sapiens's development was the transition from primate gesture to signed communication. In The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Thames & Hudson), scholars Philip R. Davies, George J. Brooke, and Phillip R. Callaway detail how the scrolls, one of history's great language troves, depict the tumultuous Judaean world of 2,000 years ago. Language and technology may have helped build powerful civilizations, yet wars, soaring populations, and environmental changes have brought them down-a situation David Webster portrays in The Fall of the Ancient Maya: Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse (Thames & Hudson).

However much our species has come to dominate the planet, our history is nevertheless intertwined with those of other animals, as Eric Scigliano shows us in Love, War, and Circuses: The Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans (Houghton Mifflin). The nature and behavior of these proboscideans have also haunted South African naturalist Lyall Watson, who evokes their world in Elephantoms:

Tracking the Elephant (W. …

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