Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Jacana

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

“A literary dance with science” – the Mail & Guardian reviews Christa Kuljian’s Darwin’s Hunch

The announcement of the Homo naledi hominid fossils by Professor Lee Berger in September 2015 at Maropeng outside Johannesburg dominated the news and headlines for months internationally. The public reaction to the find indicated a fascination in the search for human origins, and that the concept of race and human evolution are linked in many people’s minds.

Christa Kuljian traces the history of South African palaeoanthropology and genetics research in order to make sense of science and race in the quest to understand human origins. Over time, the nature of the search has shifted and changed. What are we looking for after all?

Darwin’s hunch in 1871 was that humans evolved in Africa, but very few European scientists agreed. Raymond Dart wrote in Nature in February 1925 that the Taung Child Skull supported Darwin’s theory. Dart believed he had found the “missing link” between apes and humans. Again, few scientists agreed.

Over the past century, the search for human origins has been shaped by the changing social and political context. Reflecting colonial thinking, Raymond Dart followed the practice in the US and Europe of collecting human remains and characterising human skeletons into racial types. He thought that there was a Bushman racial type that might provide a clue to human evolution. In 1936, he led a Wits University expedition to the Kalahari to study this imaginary racial type. One of the people he met and measured was a young woman named /Keri-/Keri. She died two years later. Her body was embalmed and taken to Wits University where her skeleton became part of the Raymond Dart Skeleton Collection. The book uncovers the sad story of what happened to her remains. In addition to /Keri-/Keri, Kuljian introduces us to a range of people who were in the shadows of the well-known scientists.

The book shows how Prime Minister Jan Smuts supported the search for human origins in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, how the concept of human evolution was opposed by the apartheid government, and how the post-1994 South African government and President Thabo Mbeki, with encouragement from Phillip Tobias, celebrated the fact that Africa is the Cradle of Humankind. Yet the search continues. In 1987, the publication of ‘Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution’ suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to Africa 200,000 years ago. Many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim. Genetic research continues today, based not on fossils or skeletons, but on DNA samples. Kuljian examines current thinking and approaches to the ongoing search and explains why for much of the past century so many scientists were reluctant to accept Darwin’s Hunch.

Nigel Willis, a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal, recently reviewed Kuljian’s Alan Paton Award 2017 shortlisted book for the Mail & Guardian:

Charles Darwin speculated that the origins of modern human beings may be traced to Africa. It took more than a century of hard research, exploration and scientific endeavour for his hunch to be vindicated.

Written in a gripping account that reads like a detective novel, Christa Kuljian provides a history of this validation of Darwin’s “hunch”. Kuljian is a writing fellow at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research. She took her first degree in the history of science at Harvard University, where prominent among her tutors was the world-renowned paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould.

In addition to a master’s degree at Princeton, she has another from the University of the Witwatersrand in creative writing. Her superb academic training illuminates this book.

Kuljian deals insightfully with the interrelationship between politics and science, especially the science of paleontology. Politics and its kindred spirit, ideology, influenced not only the prevailing assumptions about human origins but also the ability of paleontologists to raise funds to enable them to undertake their research. Political support may result in direct grants from government, but also heightens general consciousness, facilitating generous donations from private foundations and other institutions.

Kuljian draws parallels and distinctions between Jan Smuts, statesman, all round academic and pre-apartheid prime minister, and post-apartheid president Thabo Mbeki. The intellectual curiosity of both was stimulated by the prospect that the origins of modern human beings may have begun in South Africa. Both thought that research in this regard would help to “put South Africa on the map”. Mbeki thought that it would give black South Africans a sense of self-pride. To this idea Smuts was impervious.

Under apartheid, the Nationalist government was indifferent, if not hostile, to the idea that “the cradle of humankind” may lie in South Africa. It was afraid of the effect science may have on the ideology of “difference” between and, correspondingly, the inherent “separateness” of races.

Apartheid prime minister and also an academic, Hendrik Verwoerd was afraid that science may implode his theory that, as the first white person came ashore at the Cape, the first black person crossed the Limpopo. In Verwoerdian ideology, South Africa, apart from a few politically irrelevant San and Khoi-Khoi, was a wilderness, awaiting possession by white people. Thus reasoned, there had been no colonial displacement of blacks.

Continue reading Judge Willis’s review here.
 

Darwin's Hunch

Book details


» read article

The signs of invertebrates’ day-to-day activities are all around us. Lee Gutteridge shows us where to look…

The Invertrebrates of Southern Africa

This book intensively covers a never-before-explored aspect of Southern African nature and is an essential new addition to the library of every nature lover.

It was researched and written over the last four and a half years to open a door to a little known micro-world that exists all around us. Invertebrates – which include commonly seen creatures such as butterflies, spiders, beetles, worms and scorpions – are everywhere.

The signs of their day-to-day activities are all around us if we know where to look.

The life cycles and behaviours of many animals are discussed, with a special focus on interactions between mammals and invertebrates – a fascinating subject in itself.

While working on this book, Lee Gutteridge spent many hours in the field with expert entomologists and arachnologists, many of whom commented that; even though they had spent a lifetime in the field, this experience, of invertebrate tracking, had changed the way that they see the invertebrate world.

With funding received from the Oppenheimer family, 250 copies will be donated to indigenous trackers, whose knowledge Lee appreciates and respects.
 
 
Lee Gutteridge is an experienced, enthusiastic and well-known wild life author, nature guide and trainer. With 25 years of experience in the bush, he has come to realise that guiding is not just about knowledge, but more importantly about how we share it with our guests from around the world. He personally trains for many well-known and highly experienced guide and tracker teams at some of the southern and central African region’s top lodges, with programmes focusing on a wide range of subjects including track identification skills.

Book details


» read article

Listen: AmaBookaBooka interview Christa Kuljian

In 1871, Darwin predicted that humans evolved in Africa. European scientists thought his claim astonishing and it took the better part of a century for Darwin to be proven correct. From Raymond Dart’s description of the Taung Child Skull in 1925 to Lee Berger’s announcement of Homo Naledi in 2015, South Africa has been the site of fossil discoveries that have led us to explore our understanding of human evolution.

Darwin’s Hunch reviews how the search for human origins has been shaped by a changing social and political context. The book engages with the concept of race, from the race typology of the 1920s and ’30s to the post-World War II concern with race, to the impact of apartheid and its demise. The book explores the scientific racism that often placed people in a hierarchy of race and treated them as objects to be measured.

In 1987, the publication of “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution” suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to an African woman 200,000 years ago. Again, many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim.

Listen to author Christa Kuljian discuss her Alan Paton award shortlisted book, sharing her thoughts on revisiting science, and repeating Australopithecus Africanus 10 times in this recent AmaBookaBooka interview:

 

Book details


» read article

Want to learn how to write non-fiction? Join the Writing Masterclass with Christa Kuljian at Bridge Books

 

Join us for Jacana Media’s new series of Masterclasses for aspiring writers.

Christa Kuljian, author of Darwin’s Hunch and Sanctuary, will present the Masterclass at Bridge Books and share her insights on writing, non-fiction writing in particular.

Contact Bridge Books or visit bridgebooks.co.za for details.

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 30 March 2017
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Bridge Books, 85 Commissioner Street, Johannesburg
  • Guest Speaker: Christa Kuljian
  • Cover charge: R150
  • (includes a copy of her book)

  • RSVP: info@bridgebooks.co.za, 079 708 4461,
    https://bridgebooks.co.za/

 
 
 

  • Darwin's HunchBook details
  •  
     
     
     

  • Sanctuary

  • » read article

    Join Christa Kuljian and Ciraj Rassool at the launch of Darwin’s Hunch at The Book Lounge

    Invitation to the launch of Darwin's Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins

     
    Darwin's Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human OriginsJacana Media and The Book Lounge invite you to the launch of Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins by Christa Kuljian.

    Ian Tattersall, Curator emeritus, American Museum of Natural History, said of the book: “With its unsparing wealth of personal and historical detail, there’s nothing else like Darwin’s Hunch available.”

    Kuljian will be in conversation with professor, historian and author Ciraj Rassool.

    Don’t miss it!

    Event Details

    • Date: Tuesday, 29 November 2016
    • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
    • Venue: The Book Lounge
      71 Roeland St
      Cape Town | Map
    • Discussant: Ciraj Rassool
    • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
    • RSVP: The Book Lounge, booklounge@gmail.com, 021 462 2425

    Book Details


    » read article

    ‘We are all Africans’ – Christa Kuljian launches Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins

    Ben Williams and Christa Kuljian

     

    Darwin's HunchWits researcher Christa Kuljian was at the Sandton Library recently to launch her new book: Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins.

    The book pays homage to the human evolution theorist Charles Darwin and other naturalists who came after him, such as Raymond Dart, an Australian, and Philip Tobias, an acclaimed South African anthropologist. Tobias was Dart’s colleague and successor at Wits University.

    “There’s a very rich history in this country,” Kuljian said.

    Readers

     

    Dart’s work had gone a long way in convincing the western world that humans had their origins in Africa, not Europe or Asia. But with it, incorrect assumptions travelled back to the west. The Killer Ape Theory was one such theory. This theory, now disproved, proposed aggression and anger also had a hand in moving the evolution of humans forward.

    In the 1980s, the thinking favoured by white supremacists was that different racial groups had evolved “separately” and at different paces.

    The work done by Tobias concluded that race was “a superficial concept”.

    Said Tobias: “The term ‘race’ … is heavily charged emotionally and politically and full of unsound and even dangerous meanings. It is in the name of race that millions of people have been murdered and millions of others are being held in degradation. That is why you cannot afford to remain ignorant about race.

    “We are all Africans,” he believed.

    White supremacism allowed for the exploitation of vulnerable racial groups that were treated as “specimens”, not humans, Kuljian said.

    Killing Bushmen merely for research purposes are some disturbing incidents Kuljian records in Darwin’s Hunch. Laws outlawing such atrocities had to be passed, Kuljian said.

    The crowd

     
    When asked what had been the most shocking behaviour of scientists in their quest for knowledge and their experiments, Kuljian said: “I don’t know if I can tell you that.”

    The details were in the book, she said.

    Darwin’s Hunch is Kuljian’s second book, her first being Sanctuary: How an Inner-city Church Spilled onto a Sidewalk, published in 2013. In writing Sanctuary, Kuljian said she had “spent a lot of time in the Joburg CBD writing about current events”, but with Darwin’s Hunch, the book took her into the archives, dealing with sometimes shocking stories of people who “weren’t alive any longer”.

    At the end of the question and answer session, Jacana Media, the publishers of the book, offered a prize giveaway for a trip to Maropeng.

    Christa KuljianChrista Kuljian

     

    Readers

     

    Lungile Sojini (@success_mail) tweeted live from the launch:

    Book details


    » read article

    Don’t miss the launch of the new Roberts Bird Guide and art exhibition

    Invitation to the new Roberts Bird Guide

     
    Roberts Bird Guide: 2nd EditionJacana Media and the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund invite you to the launch of the new edition of the Roberts Bird Guide and a viewing of the original artwork.

    The guide, authored by Hugh Chittenden, Greg Davies and Ingrid Weiersbye, is an essential addition to any birder’s library.

    Light refreshments will be served.

    Don’t miss it!

    Event Details

    • Date: Wednesday, 30 November 2016
    • 6 PM: Viewing of the artwork
    • 6:30 PM: Welcome by Mark D Anderson CEO of BirdLife South Africa
    • 6:35 PM: Brief overview of Roberts Bird Guide and artwork by Ingrid Weiersbye, artist and trustee of the JVBBF.
    • Venue: BirdLife South Africa, Isdell House
      17 Hume Road
      Dunkeld West
      Johannesburg | Map
    • Guest Speakers: Mark D Anderson and Ingrid Weiersbye
    • Refreshments: Refreshments will be served
    • RSVP: rsvp@jacana.co.za

    Book Details


    » read article

    Don’t miss the launch of Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins by Christa Kuljian

    Invitation to the launch of Darwin's Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins

     

    Darwin's Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human OriginsJacana Media, WiSER and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Paleosciences invite you to the launch of Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins by Christa Kuljian.

    The event will take place at Wednesday, 2 November at 6 PM.

    See you there!

    About the book:

    In 1871, Darwin predicted that humans evolved in Africa. European scientists thought his claim astonishing and it took the better part of a century for Darwin to be proven correct. From Raymond Dart’s description of the Taung Child Skull in 1925 to Lee Berger’s announcement of Homo Naledi in 2015, South Africa has been the site of fossil discoveries that have led us to explore our understanding of human evolution.

    Darwin’s Hunch reviews how the search for human origins has been shaped by a changing social and political context. The book engages with the concept of race, from the race typology of the 1920s and ’30s to the post-World War II concern with race, to the impact of apartheid and its demise. The book explores the scientific racism that often placed people in a hierarchy of race and treated them as objects to be measured.

    In 1987, the publication of “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution” suggested that all living humans could trace their ancestry back to an African woman 200,000 years ago. Again, many scientists and the general public in the West were slow to accept such a claim.

    Event Details

    Book Details


    » read article

    The new Roberts Bird Guide: A valuable addition to any birder’s library

    Robert's Bird GuideJacana Media is proud to present Roberts Bird Guide: 2nd Edition by Hugh Chittenden, Greg Davies and Ingrid Weiersbye:

    Published by The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund

    Covering nearly 1 000 species found in southern Africa (south of the Cunene and Zambezi rivers), this revised edition of Roberts Bird Guide features stunning new artwork treating seasonal, age and sexual
    differences in approximately 240 annotated colour plates, updated distribution maps, breeding and seasonality bars and concise but informative species texts dealing not just identification but aspects of biology such as food and voice.

    This new guide should be a valuable addition to any birder’s library.

    All photographs by Hugh Chittenden except where otherwise acknowledged.

    About the authors

    Hugh Chittenden has over 50 years birding experience in the region. His ornithological interests have taken him to many remote places on the African continent and elsewhere in the world. Hugh received an honorary Doctorate degree for contributions to Ornithology in 2012, has a passion for bird photography and is author of numerous bird guides in the southern African region. He is Chairman of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund.

    Greg Davies has been passionate about birds and natural history since a young age. Following in Austin Roberts’s footsteps, Greg was Curator of Ornithology at the Transvaal (Ditsong) Museum, Pretoria from 2010 to 2016 and travelled widely in southern Africa and beyond to study birds. Prior to that appointment, Greg was Curator of Entomology at the Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg. Now resident in California, USA, he continues to maintain his interest in Afrotropical Ornithology.

    Ingrid Weiersbye grew up in Zimbabwe, a country where the natural beauty shaped her deep interest in, and love for all aspects of nature. Ingrid has painted professionally and exhibited extensively for 38 years, working in acrylic and oils from her studio in Hilton, KZN. She travels widely, particularly in the rest of Africa to acquaint herself and photograph subject matter. Ingrid is a Trustee of the JVBBF, for which she has illustrated for the past 12 years.

    Book details


    » read article

    Rob Little’s definitive monograph: Terrestrial Gamebirds and Snipes of Africa

    Terrestrial Gamebirds and Snipes of AfricaJacana Media is proud to present Terrestrial Gamebirds and Snipes of Africa by Rob Little:

    Terrestrial Gamebirds and Snipes of Africa is a detailed full-colour hand book. It includes everything needed to identify and get to know the 74 species that fall into six groups: guineafowls and Congo Peafowl, francolins and partridges, spurfowls, quails, sandgrouse, and snipes and Eurasian Woodcock.

    Terrestrial Gamebirds and Snipes of Africa offers a concise summary of the large but scattered body of accumulated scientific research and field-guide literature. Pertinent and interesting facts about the distribution, habits, breeding and conservation of each species are presented in a readable fashion. More than 250 photographs convey the appearance, characteristic features, behavioural activities and, in many cases, the habitats frequented by each bird.

    Terrestrial Gamebirds and Snipes of Africa will be a worthy addition to the ornithological literature and to the bookshelves of bird enthusiasts, particularly birders, wing-shooters, land owners and anyone with an interest in nature and conservation, throughout Africa and across the rest of the world.

    About the author

    Rob Little is a prolific author and a passionate birder and conservationist. He has a BSc in Wildlife Resources and a PhD degree on the behavioural ecology, management and utilisation of the grey-winged francolin. During the early 1990s, Rob coordinated the Gamebird Research Programme at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town. Together with Tim Crowe, he published the book Gamebirds of Southern Africa. Rob was Director: Conservation at WWF South Africa from 1997-2008. In 2009 he was appointed manager of the Centre of Excellence (CoE) at the Fitztitute. He is the Fitztitute’s link with the South African National Research Foundation and the Department of Science and Technology and manages the research activities which are funded by the CoE using birds as keys to biodiversity conservation.

    Book details


    » read article