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Human Evolution

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In a recent post, Fred Reed asks: The short answer is that any killing, for whatever reason, increases the likelihood of killing for other reasons. One exception is self-defence, but that's not done for pleasure. Another exception is capital punishment, but that, too, is not done for pleasure. More to the point, no single citizen... Read More
\"FranzBoas\". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The anthropologist Franz Boas is remembered for moving the social sciences away from genetic determinism and toward environmental determinism. In reality, he felt that genes do contribute substantially to mental and behavioral differences ... and not just between individuals. Most of us identify with certain great teachers of the past: Christ, Marx, Freud … Though... Read More
Infant stump-tailed macaque (source). Other photos showing adults and infants (courtesy of Monte M. Taylor and Christopher H. Taylor). Why do humans have so little body hair? This question is addressed by Sandel (2013) in his comparative review of hair density in 23 primates and 29 nonprimate mammals. There seems to have been a long-term... Read More
The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, over a million years ago in the Pleistocene. A founding myth of evolutionary psychology. In the future, how will we look at evolution and human behavior? Perhaps we’ll still be looking through the lens of evolutionary psychology, albeit a more “evolved” one than the current variety. Or perhaps there will... Read More
Andaman Islanders. Related peoples once inhabited the coastal regions of southern, southeastern, and eastern Asia. The past year brought two major advances: the long awaited sequencing of the Neanderthal genome and the genetic sequencing of an another archaic human, the Denisovans of East Asia, whose existence had previously been unsuspected. The bottom line comes down... Read More
Modern humans changed little when they initially spread out of Africa and into the Middle East. Real change occurred farther north, when they entered seasonally varying environments that differed much more even in summer. Three years ago, a research team led by John Hawks found that the rate of genetic change accelerated once ancestral humans... Read More
I’ve been fascinated by a puzzle of modern human evolution: the diverse palette of hair and eye colors that has developed in some populations (Frost, 2006; Frost 2008). Hair may be black, brown, flaxen, golden, or red, and eyes may be brown, blue, gray, hazel, or green. Both polymorphisms are largely confined to Europeans, especially... Read More
What did the first modern humans in Europe look like? The question comes up in a BBC2 series The Incredible Human Journey, which shows the reconstructed head of a man who lived in the Carpathian Mountains some 35,000 years ago. With its brown skin and broad nose, this ‘First European’ looks, well, very un-European. The... Read More
Human genomics The Neanderthal genome will be fully sequenced. There will be no evidence of interbreeding with modern humans (although proponents of the multiregional model will remain unconvinced). By comparing this genome with ours, we may reconstruct the genome of archaic humans who lived almost a million years ago and who were ancestral to Neanderthals... Read More
The French journal L’Histoire has a special issue on reading and writing in ancient societies. One article, about Mesopotamia, makes several points that support an argument I have made: the invention of writing, especially alphabetical writing, created a strong selection pressure for people who had the rare ability to take dictation or copy written texts... Read More
It is often assumed that black Africans, out of all human populations, most closely resemble our common ancestral state. After all, is not Africa the cradle of humanity? And did not modern humans spread ‘out of Africa’ some 50,000 or so years ago? Indeed, we are all offspring of Africa. What is less true is... Read More
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