Published: November 2004
David Quammen

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

At the American Museum of Natural History in New York, I met with paleontologists Niles Eldridge and Ian Tattersall. It was a privilege to meet with them and discuss their respective studies. Ian gave me a tour of the museum that included an explanation of how the discovery of Lucy, a famous hominid find, differs from other previously unearthed hominids.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

I've spent 20 years doing field travel that helps me understand evolutionary ideas, and there have been some scary moments in all that time. But for this assignment I simply visited a few cities and spent time with very civilized, very smart evolutionary biologists in the comfort of their offices. Absolutely no suffering involved.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

Often scientists will surprise you with an interest or talent that has nothing to do with the work that seems to consume most of their lives. Niles Eldridge is an evolutionary paleontologist, famous for developing an idea about the pacing of evolutionary change that he and his colleague Stephen Jay Gould called punctuated equilibria. But Niles is also fascinated by the cornet, a musical instrument similar to a trumpet. His collection includes dozens and dozens of them. He's written scholarly papers on the history of the instrument, and he's a musician of some talent. That was a charming and unexpected discovery.