Category Archives: evolution

Did technology start with women?

A report in The Guardian says:

The discovery of a chimpanzee making and using a spear in Senegal is not only a surprising revelation about our nearest evolutionary relative, say Mairi MacLeod and Ian Sample – it could also provide invaluable insights into how man developed technology.

But if you read the article,  you realise that the chimps using spears are female, not male. Should the blurb read: “…it could also provide invaluable insights into how woman developed technology”?

The article says:

One of the most intriguing things about the Fongoli spear use is that it is females who do the hunting. Monkey hunts by chimps are well documented, but they are dominated by the big males. Although females occasionally take part in hunts, it’s normally a back-seat role. Charging through the trees is dangerous, especially with a small infant, and even if a female catches the quarry, there’s a good chance she will have to surrender it to a larger male.

Pruetz says females and youngsters are forced to innovate to get protein for their diets; her point is that it is females who are driving the adoption of new technology. “The females and maybe the young males too are basically having to solve problems in a creative way because of competition with adult males,” she says. “That may be by technology, and not by brute strength or force.”

“Basically, you can spot that tree hole and you can creep up and take a good look,” says McGrew. “You can do that even if you’re encumbered with an infant, and because it’s a solitary activity, you don’t have to coordinate with others.”

The researchers say spear use in Fongoli is performed almost exclusively by females and youngsters. In spite of the fact that the researchers were concentrating on male behaviour during their study, they saw only one attempt at spear-making by an adult male out of a total of 22 episodes.

“[This] strengthens the case that in all likelihood the origins of technology [in humans] were with females,” says McGrew.

It does seem to make sense. Brute strength generally does not go hand in hand with subtlety and creativity. It is tempting to see the females and the beta males as the creative types, the ones that drove scientific developments, which were quickly preempted by the alpha males. After all, doesn’t one see similar phenomena everywhere in the world?

Overbite: The European-Asian tooth connection

Sorry for the sensationalist title to the blog, but I couldn’t resist, honestly. Apparently, a study by  Spain’s National Centre for Research on Human Evolution http://www.cenieh.es/en_index.php has proposed that modern Europeans are descended more from Asians than Africans. The study, as covered by AFP newswire, http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20070807/sc_afp/usscienceorigins was probably conducted by the Centre’s Group of Dental Anthropology http://www.cenieh.es/en_investigacion/g1inicio.php. The group studied the characteristics of the teeth of more than 5,000 teeth from humans from Africa, Asia and Europe dating back millions of years, and saw greater similarities between European and Asian teeth than between European and African teeth.
So does this negate the Out of Africa theory? Unlikely, in my opinion. The Out of Africa theory is so well supported by the common mitochondrial DNA (about 150,000 years ago) and Y chromosome marker (about 60,000 years ago) that all humans carry, that it will take more than the shape of teeth to overturn it. What the study does, in my opinion, is underline the complexity of human evolution; there may have been more movements between European and Asian populations than earlier believed. 
So what’s the debate all about?  About 100,000 years ago, Earth had several species of hominids: Homo sapiens in Africa and the Middle East; Homo erectus in Southeast Asia and China; and Neanderthals in Europe. But by about 25,000 years ago, only Homo sapiens remained. What happened to the earlier hominids? Were they replaced by modern humans, or did they interbreed with them? The Out of Africa theory supports the former hypothesis, and the Multiregional Evolution theory the latter. The main proponent of the Out of Africa Theory is British paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer. The theory got a major boost in the 1990s from mitochondrial DNA studies by Allan Wilson and Rebecca Cann which suggested that all humans ultimately descended from one female: the Mitochondrial Eve. The main proponent of the Multiregional Evolution theory is University of Michigan professor Milford H. Wolpoff. http://www.mnh.si.edu/anthro/humanorigins/faq/Encarta/diversity.htm#ooa 
The debate has been going on for a very long time now, and it’s likely to go on for some more time. I personally feel the Out of Africa theory is stronger, but I’m no scientist. 

Darwin on the Web

All of Darwin’s writings, from his seminal Origin of Species and Descent of Man to the jottings in the notebook he carried around with him on The Beagle, have been published on the World Wide Web. http://darwin-online.org.uk/
It’s an extremely functional site, where you can select your favourite mode of reading, with or without images. Slight minuses are that the site has a slightly dated look, and it doesn’t offer easier-to-read .pdf or .lit versions of the books for download. But these are minor in comparison with the wealth of information available on the site, and the 15 million hits the website has received since it came into being prove it. 

Oldest fossils?

Where did life begin on Earth? In deep sea shelves or in shallow seas? The case seems to have been reopened with the discovery of the oldest-ever specimens of deep-sea microbes so far. These fossils, found in a Chinese mine, are 1.43 billion years old. That seems pretty ancient, but they are juvenile compared to the 3.5 billion-year-old stromatolites found in Western Australia, which seem to indicate that life began in shallow seas. So the jury is out on that one.
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,292076,00.html

Evolution

There are some images that you carry with you from your childhood – images that touched your mind with wonder or with the glimmerings of new thought. For me, one such image was a rather crude artist’s impression of animals leaving the sea to walk on land. The sketch may have been crude, but the idea of evolution was stupendous – something to mull over for days! Of course, I had no idea then that years later, that image would come to life as a fossil.  

In 2004, Tiktaalik roseae, a crocodile-like fossil, was found on Ellesmere Island, Canada. According to the Guardian, it showed how creatures first walked out of the water and on to dry land more than 375m years ago.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/dec/22/2006inreview.taxonomy

By the way, this creature has a home on the Net now http://tiktaalik.uchicago.edu/

To me, the Tiktaalik seems to signify the idea of evolution itself, the idea that life (call it the Selfish Gene, if you like) will constantly push organisms to change, to move outside their zone of comfort,  and to procreate, sometimes at tremendous sacrifice.