How Human Beings Evolved from Our Closest Ancestors

Were Neanderthals really artists? | Art and design | The ...

The Guardian: Neanderthal Cave Art Gibraltar

Episode 2: The Rise of Humanity

The Big History of Civilizations

Craig G Benjamin (2016)

Film Review

This presentation traces the gradual differentiation of human beings from their closest ancestors. Humans belong to the subfamily of Homininae, which includes gorillas, chimpanzees and other bipedal apes. Human beings and chimps share 98.4% of the same genes. Benjamin asserts they’re both descended from the same ancestor 7 million years ago.

According to fossil evidence, primates began walking upright 6.5 million years ago. Some anthropologists attribute this adaptation to a cooling climate that shrank the size of African forests. Standing on two legs allowed early Homininae to see over long savanna grasses and carry food more easily.

A second cooling period 2.5 million years ago possibly favored the rise (via natural selection) of the genus Homo. Most Homo species seem to have used fire for warmth and to scare off predators. Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo Neanderthalis are the best known immediate precursors to Homo sapiens.

Homo erectus was the first known species of the genus Homo to stand fully erect (around 1.8 million years ago). They were also the first species to develop semicircular ear canals allowing for running, jumping and dancing.

Early Homo species began migrating out of Africa (mainly to Asia and southern Europe) about 1.7 million years ago, as food shortages led them to follow migrating animals.

The first evidence of symbolic language appeared around 500,000 BC. There are European Neanderthal cave paintings from 200,000 BC suggesting some use of language, collective learning and primitive tools. When members of the species Homo sapiens began migrating out of Africa after 100,000 BP, Neanderthals weren’t able to compete with their superior language, tools and collective planning skills. Archeological evidence suggests their species died out about 40,000 BC.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.

Jane Goodall: Animal Rights Champion

Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe

by Jane Goodall

Guernsey Press Limited (2000)

Book Review

In this book, primate ethologist Jane Goodall sums up her remarkable career studying the wild chimpanzees at the mountainous Gombe Reserve in modern day Tanzania. She was drafted for the project by renowned British anthropologist Dr Louis Leakey. Also she completed a PhD in ethology in 1965, at the time she had no education beyond high school. As she recounts in the book, this placed her advantage because she was not bound by prevailing biases about higher mammal (eg the absence of a “mind” in non-human animals that made them incapable of experiencing complex emotions).

In the course of her research, Goodall offered the first evidence that chimpanzees both make and use tools (it was long believed only humans could do so), that they engaged in war (during periods of food scarcity) on other chimpanzie groups, that there are capable of generalization and abstract thinking and that, like humans, they experience enduring family bonds, cooperate in hunting, care for the sick, grieve for the dead, share food, and experience depression and fear.

The book is primarily a collection of anecdotes about the chimp families she and her staff observed over her 30 year involvement with the Gombe Reserve. Chapters are organized by topic, such as sexual behavior, infant rearing, war, male dominance behavior, foster parenting and maternal death and depression in adolescent and adult chimps.

In the last chapter, she rails against the persistence of poachers (in the late eighties) who kill mother chimps to steal their infants for research labs and as pets. She goes on to describe her visits to the National Institutes of Health and other research labs and her horror at the inhumane conditions they are kept in.

In Appendix 1, she makes a passionate argument against the use of higher mammals in scientific research. In addition to demolishing the common argument that torturing research animals is essential to prevent human suffering, she points to numerous modern alternatives (eg tissue culture, in vitro studies and computer simulation).

Sea otters also use tools: Sea Otters’ Stone Tools Provide New Clues for Anthropologists