Friday, February 20, 2015

Pat Shipman’s Newest Book

Pat Shipman’s newest book, THE INVADERS: HOW HUMANS AND THEIR DOGS DROVE NEANDERTHALS TO EXTINCTION, has just come out and is already generating excitement.

It’s one of anthropology’s big questions: what happened to the Neanderthals? They flourished for at least 200,000 years in Eurasia but, some time after humans moved into their territory, they vanished from the earth. In recent years, research has shown that they were far more like humans than previously recognized. They inbred with humans, produced art and tools and may have been more intelligent than was once thought.

Pat Shipman, a retired adjunct professor of anthropology at Penn State, espouses a fascinating new theory based on recent paleontology research showing that dogs were domesticated by humans at least 36,000 years ago. She questions what advantage humans with a semi-domesticated ‘wolf-dogs’ would have had in the hunt for food and theorizes that it gave them the competitive edge over Neanderthals.

I asked her what had fueled her interest in this question and she replied,
“The inspiration to look at the question through the lens of invasive species came from my time on Little Cayman. Island species are very vulnerable to invasive species and lionfish are a big threat to the Little Cayman reefs.” Lionfish, she explained, are an Indo-Pacific fish, very beautiful, much favored by the aquarium trade and voracious eaters of other fish.

Their first appearance in the Caribbean was probably by accident, through destruction of aquaria in a hurricane or because somebody realized that lionfish kept eating everything else in the tank and so foolishly let them go. They are now decimating Caribbean reefs because they have no natural predators in the area. “Little Cayman is fighting back,” Shipman said, “with weekly volunteer culls of lionfish which are keeping the numbers under control, barely. Since divers and snorkelers are the island's only industry, the problem is very real.” 

I began to see that humans are an invasive species anywhere except Africa, where we evolved.

“That started me reading about invasion biology, a relatively new field that studies what happens when a species invades a new habitat,” Shipman said. “I also attended a course in Yellowstone that included a lot of information about reintroducing the gray wolf to the Park, where it had not been known for over 75 years due to over-hunting. From those experiences, I began to see that humans are an invasive species anywhere except Africa, where we evolved. What has been learned from invasion biology has a lot to say about our success in spreading around the world and about the extinction of our last close relatives, Neanderthals.”

Asked about her research methods, Shipman replied: “The research was library work, going on the course in Yellowstone, and attending a wonderful conference & field trip in Poland, with a short excursion to the Czech Republic, to visit sites and museums. And to talk to colleagues and listen to their ideas and findings. I had written a book on Neanderthals some years ago – 1992, I think it was – so the research/literature on Neanderthals themselves was familiar to me. But the wolf/dog transition, as we domesticated wolves, is a whole additional and very rich field in which I did a lot of reading and thinking.” 

Shipman’s book can be ordered from the Harvard University Press ( or Amazon (in stock on tomorrow).

PS. My dogs, Henry Walter Robeson and Jethro Gibbs, are particularly fond of this theory and have been strutting about, pointing out that their ancestors saved mine and that, as a result, they should now be allowed to have steak every night!

1 comment:

  1. So interesting. Thank you, Marian, for alerting people about Pat Shipman's new book. Wish Pat the very best and success with her book. It is on the top of my reading list.