Category: Evolution

New fossil finds of an ancient relative

Suppose there were two different species of humans alive at the same time? It happened more than once in the past.

In a southern African cave called Rising Star, scientists have discovered many fossils of a species of human relative called Homo naledi. The skulls and skeletons of this extinct human relative are a strange mix of primitive features and more advanced ones. Many questions remain, and much research waits to be done, but the Rising Star fossils promise to tell us more about how our family tree evolved. One fascinating thing about Homo naledi is that the newly discovered fossils appear to be only about 300,000 years old. That’s a very short time in the history of our species! Homo naledi probably roamed the African plains at the same time, and in the same areas, as our own ancestors several hundred thousand years ago.

Studying Darwin and Darwin’s Study


Study at Down House


I’m working on a young people’s version of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species. I feel a great sense of responsibility. The Origin introduced the world to Darwin’s insights about how species of plants and animals evolve and change over time, giving rise to new species. Since Darwin’s time, scientists have learned much, much more about evolution, species, and biology in general. Still, the Origin is one of the most important and influential books ever written. I am striving to offer the best possible adaptation of it to readers both young and old.

I’m also thinking about treating myself to something special when the book is finished. I’d love to visit Down House, the home in England where Darwin lived with his family for forty years. Although Darwin had begun to develop his ideas about evolution before he moved to Down House, it was in this study that he wrote the Origin and his later works. I’d love to enter this room and try for a moment to see the world as he saw it.

Bringing a great book to young readers

I’m thrilled to report that I’ve signed with Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, to write an adaptation of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species for kids and young adults. I could not be happier about it. It is a dream project for me in many ways.

Years ago I wrote a book called¬†Scientific Explorers.¬†It was the third volume in my Extraordinary Explorers YA trilogy for Oxford University Press, and it contained a chapter on Darwin, one that I was happy to see drew special praise from several reviewers. I went on to write a YA bio, Charles Darwin and the Evolution Revolution, also for Oxford; it remains in print, twenty years later. Since then I’ve written a number of children’s and YA books on subjects related to Darwin’s work and to evolutionary biology, including a four-volume series for high-school-age readers on human evolution. I also recently adapted Jared Diamond’s book on human evolution, The Third Chimpanzee, into a version for young readers. It was published in North America by Seven Stories Press, and it has also been published in a dozen or so other countries.

This new project, adapting Darwin’s own words for kids–while keeping as many of them as possible just as he wrote them, and adding sidebars to bring the science up to date–feels like the next stage in my long history of being involved with Darwin and his world-changing achievement. It also feels like an enormous responsibility. Stay tuned for updates as I strive to meet the challenge.

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