BILD 3 - Lecture 20

BILD 3 - Lecture 20 - Human Evolution The Differences...

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The Differences Between Humans and Other Primates It is obvious that we humans are different from any other species of animal on our planet. Our brains are very large. We can acquire many different learned behaviors. We are able to invent and speak complex languages, and have invented complex tools and cultures. We can walk upright for long periods without difficulty, unlike our closest living primate relatives, and our hands are entirely specialized for grasping and manipulating, while those of our primate relatives are still often used for quadrupedal (four-legged) locomotion, including knuckle-walking. The speed of our evolution has also been remarkable. Our brains and bodies have undergone many evolutionary changes over the last few million years, while during the same period the brains and bodies of our closest primate relatives have not undergone similarly rapid changes. Three important questions confront the student of human evolution: 1) Did our species emerge suddenly, or are we the product of a long and continuous process of evolution in which the characteristics that distinguish us from other animals evolved gradually? 2) Are we truly unique, or did peoples with similar remarkable mental and physical capabilities evolve more than once? 3) Was there a single triggering event that set us on our current evolutionary path? If so, when might this event have occurred, and what was its nature? Students of human evolution disagree strongly on the answers to these questions. In this section of the course we will examine the current evidence bearing on them. We will draw on a wide variety of information that has been gleaned from the fossil and molecular histories of our species and those of our relatives, along with behavioral comparisons between ourselves and other species. The Hominan Fossil Record Hominans are the subtribe of the Family Hominidae that include just ourselves and our extinct near relatives, excluding the chimpanzees and the other great apes. The figure below shows a cautious overview of the fossil record of the hominans as we understand it at the present time. The vertical bars show the spans of time during which organisms belonging to various types of
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BILD 3 - Lecture 20 - Human Evolution The Differences...

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