In 1982, anthropologist Adrienne Zihlman, now professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, published The Human Evolution Coloring Book. Students of biological anthropology were invited to learn about DNA, genes, monkeys and apes – and the fossils, tools and evolutionary relationships of our human ancestors – by coloring in pages rife with factual information presented visually, as well as in words.
A Ph.D. candidate back then, I had never encountered such an object before, with its mix of a children’s activity, as I then thought coloring to be, and an adult student’s science material. I learned from Zihlman’s presentation. Side-by-side skeletal comparisons of the australopithecine “Lucy” and a modern chimpanzee in one case, and robust (large-boned, thick-jawed) and gracile (more slender) australopithecines in another, helped me visualize facts and concepts. I didn’t color in the pictures, though. That seemed, well, just a little bit juvenile to me.