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Scientific American's Becoming Human PDF

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The third and most stringent test is that we must be able to find geographic distributions of behavior that can be explained by culture and are not easily explained any other way. One key pattern would be the presence of a behavior in one place and its absence beyond some natural barrier to dispersal. In the case of the tool users at Suaq, the geographic distribution of Neesia gave us decisive clues. Neesia trees (and orangutans) occur on both sides of the wide Alas River. In the Singkil swamp, however, just south of Suaq and on the same side of the Alas River [see map on opposite page], B A S E M A P S O U R C E : P E R R Y V A N D U I J N H O V E N ; A D A P T E D B Y J E N C H R I S T I A N S E N ; P E R R Y V A N D U I J N H O V E N ( p h o t o g r a p h) food-related behavior, which makes sense because acquiring feeding skills from somebody else requires more closerange observation than, say, picking up a conspicuous communication signal.

Although this new hypothesis is not enough to explain why our ancestors, alone among great apes, evolved such extreme intelligence, the remarkable bootstrapping ability of the great apes in rich cultural settings makes the gap seem less formidable. The explanation for the historical trajectory of change involves many details that must be painstakingly pieced together from a sparse and confusing fossil and archaeological record. Many researchers suspect that a key change was the invasion of the savanna by tool-wielding, striding early Homo.

That does not mean that humans were the top carnivores, however. “They could have been both the hunters and the hunted,” Tappen observes. Telltale puncture wounds on one of the skulls and gnaw marks on the large mandible reveal that some of the hominids at Dmanisi ended up as cat food. Outward Bound t h e g e org i a n r e m a i ns prove that humans left Africa shortly after H. 9 million years ago. But where they went after that is a mystery. 8 million years ago), and those in Europe are only around 800,000 years of age.

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Becoming Human by Scientific American


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