The Human Story: Evolution and Science Reporting
Paleoanthropology is one of my favorite areas of study. I should have gone into it in college.
In the meantime, here is an excellent overview and discussion of how the coverage has been over the past 100 years in Science News.
In The Descent of Man, published in 1871, Darwin hypothesized that our ancestors came from Africa. He pointed out that among all the living animals, the African apes — gorillas and chimpanzees — were the most similar to humans. As such, he wrote, “it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere.”
At the time, 150 years ago, Darwin had little fossil evidence to draw from. A handful of Neandertal bones had been found in Europe, but experts disagreed about whether they came from an ancient type of human or just diseased modern humans. Darwin was not deterred, though. Uncovering the fossil records of other species had been “a very slow and fortuitous process,” he noted, and geologists hadn’t yet explored the regions where our apelike ancestors were likely to be found.
Over the next 50 years, more fossils trickled in, but from Europe and Asia. By the 1920s, it looked like Darwin had picked the wrong continent.
Then in 1924, a fortuitous find in Darwin’s favor finally came.