Every Bone Tells a Story

Every Bone Tells a Story

  • 1895

By: Jill Rubalcaba & Peter Robertshaw

Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates

Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw recount the unearthing of four hominins--Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Iceman. Each discovery leads not only to deductions that scientists made in laboratories, but also to controversial debates over the scientists' differences of opinion over how, or even if, the pieces fit together.

Learn how specialized the field of archaeology has become and how new technology can change both scientists' theories and the way we view the past.

Look Inside the Book:

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Jill Rubalcaba, author

Jill Rubalcaba is the author of The Ancient Egyptian World, co-written with Eric H. Cline, The Early Human World, cowritten with Peter Robertshaw, and The Wadjet Eye. Jill lives in Middletown, Connecticut.

Read more about Jill.

Peter Robertshaw, illustrator

Peter Robertshaw has published four books and many articles and papers about African archaeology. He is the chair of the Department of Anthropology at California State University San Bernadino. He lives in Crestline, California.

Read more about Peter.

Awards & Honors:

  • NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • CCBC Choices

Editorial Reviews:


Archaeology and paleontology are the exciting focus in this accessible account of four hominins who lived long before recorded history. The authors explore not only how and where their remains were discovered but also what they tell scientists today about how they lived and why they died out. Were Neanderthals brainy or brutish? Man or beast? When did language begin? The informal style never oversimplifies the engaging science and technology, and the authors raise as many questions as they answer in the detailed chapters, which cover each of the four fossils and the research and debate that surround them. The design is lackluster but readable, with clear type on thick paper and occasional full-color illustrations of sites, skeletons, and scientists at work. Meticulous source notes and bibliographies (including Web sites) at the end of each chapter will stimulate further research. Adults will want this, too.

School Library Journal

The authors have taken an unusual approach in this look at members of the human family tree. Rather than sketch all of human prehistory, they focus on four particular discoveries, noting the deductions that scientists have made and the debates that these conclusions have sparked. The finds that they detail are Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Otzi the Iceman. This approach will be helpful for students as it makes clear the type of work done by paleontologists, archaeologists, and their ilk. There is a lot of painstaking effort and a lot of careful thought. It is particularly interesting to learn what sorts of debates an activity as innocent-seeming as archaeology can engender. Full-color photos, an occasional map or diagram, and an illustrated time line enhance the presentation. As they have focused on only four individuals, readers may miss their personal favorites, such as "Lucy" and the recently discovered Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "hobbits." There are also some scientific points that aren't explained as well as they might be. In their discussion of genetics, for example, the authors refer to C, G, A, and T without ever explaining that these are the initials of cytosine, guanine, adenin, and thymine. While there are a few print sources from recent years, many go back 10 years or more. Despite a few quibbles, this is an excellent look at an engaging area of science that should find broad readership and use.

NSTA Recommends

Many books and television programs give us information about prehistoric humans, their anatomy, their lifestyles, their cultures, and their migrations. This book reveals the fascinating process by which this information has been obtained by archaeologists and other scientists.

Focussing on four specific hominin specimens, the authors describe each one in terms of the three Ds of archaeology--discovery, deductions, and debates. The four specimens examined are Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old Homo erectus fossil; Lapedo Child, a 24,500-year-old specimen believed by some to be a Neandertal/modern human hybrid; Kennewick Man, a 9,000-year-old possible ancestor of Native Americans; and Iceman, a 5,300-year-old specimen preserved in Alpine ice.

The "Discovery" section for each hominin is an adventure story, introduced with a creative scenario of how the particular individual died and ended up as a fossil. This leads to an account of the eventual discovery of its remains, its excavation, and the subsequent study and analysis of the specimen. The "Deductions" section reveals the thoughts and ideas of scientists as they consider the significance of the remains. Materials from a fossil site are used by scientists from various disciplines to reconstruct the size, structure, health, and age of the body; the environment in which it lived; what it ate; and how it interacted with other species, both human and non-human.

There is an amazing amount of detail in the conclusions resulting from the scientists' deductions. For example, one scientist claims that the facial structure of Kennewick Man indicated that he "cried a lot." The "Debates" section confirms that the story of these hominins is not a closed book. There is much disagreement and controversy on some of the deductions. Often, a new discovery challenges someone's long-held theory, that person is reluctant to accept a new interpretation, and arguments become rather heated. This section is an eye-opener to the process by which scientific information becomes established.

This book would be appropriate for high school and advanced middle school classes. Several branches of science are introduced, and the scientific process is well-illustrated with numerous examples of how scientists work, interpret evidence, make deductions, debate interpretations, and refine points of view. Many different technologies, form microscopic pollen analysis to DNA analysis, are explained as some of the ways used to unlock the secrets of human past. The book also includes numerous illustrations, many in color, as well as suggestions for further reading, a timeline, a glossary, a bibliography, and identifications of all the scientists mentioned in the stories of the hominins.

Science News

The authors present the fascinating stories of four of our ancient relatives: Turkana boy (from 1.6 million years ago in Kenya), Lapedo child (24,000 years ago, Portugal), Kennewick man (9000 years ago, Washington state), and Otzi the iceman (5300 years ago, the Alps). They divide each narrative into sections that cover the field discoveries of the hominin remains and their contexts, subsequent deductions from laboratory work, and the debates over interpretations of the findings. At the end of each story, the authors suggest further readings and relevant Web sites and provide source notes for their meticulous accounts. Rubalcaba and Robertshaw clearly present the thought processes that scientists use to reach their conclusions, introduce the scientists as people while illustrating why they are so excited about their research, and accurately describe the scientific data for the reader's evaluation. Exceptionally well written, the book provides an exciting read that makes the joy of being a scientist come alive.


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ISBN: 978-1-58089-164-6
ISBN: 978-1-58089-165-3

Ages: 10 and up
Page count: 192
6 x 9

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