Sustainability Scientist and daughter team explores new approach to human origins

As a doctoral student in History and Philosophy of Science at Arizona State University, Lydia Pyne ended up sharing an office with her father Steve Pyne, a professor of environmental history in the university’s School of Life Sciences and senior sustainability scientist with the Global Institute of Sustainability. Steve’s extra storage space - for housing his many books and projects - also offered his daughter a small, private workspace away from the crowded graduate student office.

It also offered the pair the opportunity to turn their frequent, playful intellectual banter into a co-authored book and, for Lydia, a dream come true. Their exchanges inspired “The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins and the Invention of the Pleistocene.” This nonfiction book is an intergenerational work representing the authors’ intellectual adventure into the rich scientific and historical underpinnings of an important geological time period.

The Pleistocene, an era that lasted from more than 2.6 million years ago to approximately 10,000 years ago, is defined by the last great ice age and the appearance of modern humanity’s ancestors. Yet, as presented in the book’s title, just what is the “invention” of the Pleistocene?

“Even the ideas we developed to explain the epoch have a history - they are themselves cultural inventions,” explained Steve. “This work argues that we need to supplement science of human origins and evolution with other scholarship.”

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