Ian Tattersall

1945 - present

The Rickety Cossack

Ian Tattersall is a paleoanthropologist and the curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He has studied and written extensively on the origins of Homo sapiens. His book The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack, is both educational and entertaining. He reviews in great detail the numerous twists and turns in trying to piece together the fossil evidence around the world related to our origins. The story is neither pretty nor clear. It is a tale that involves almost as much variation in the backgrounds of the scientists as it does in the sciences being studied. We have paleoanthropologists, paleontologists, systematists, anatomists, evolutionary psychologists, cultural anthropologists, neuroanatomists, taxonomists and paleogenomicists all vying for attention. There were many conflicting reports based on fragments of bones found in caves, sediments and ancient seabeds all over the world. These differences sometimes led to petty personal conflicts, shouting matches at professional meetings and even life-long feuds. There was claim jumping at archeological sites, political intrigue at the highest levels of governments, the Piltdown man fraud, and lawsuits. There were lots of Leakeys. Theories of our origin ranged from narrow straight-line evolutionary paths to complex matrices leading to multiple independent lineages reflected in our current cultural and geographic diversity. Finally, the list of purported genera and species in the Homo lineage is as long and sometimes as ephemeral in the fossil record as they are in the Homo sapiens’ literature.


Ian Tattersall is one of many anthropologists that guided me on the journey. The diversity of possible paths and the uncertainties surrounding them in the fossil record were important factors informing my conclusions regarding the answers. They stimulated me to search broadly.

Click on links to other players in my journey below.