The clues to human uniqueness

Over 2 million years ago, before the emergence of the genus Homo, within the rift valleys and savannah grasslands of Africa during the Pliocene period, a unique event took place. One that, with some hyperbole, admittedly, shaped the course of human evolution. The event was on a molecular scale but had its bearings on what we now call and search for as the “human condition

1 thought on “The clues to human uniqueness

  1. Thanks a lot for the information, but please don’t start with a mistake: “… before the emergence of the genus Homo, within the rift valleys and savannah grasslands of Africa during the Pliocene period, a unique event took place …” It is now commonly accepted among paleo-anthroplogists that our evolution did not take place on the savannah grasslands.
    In 1995, professor Phillip Tobias, in his Daryll Forde Memorial Lecture at University College, London, stated of the Savannah Hypothesis: “We were all profoundly and unutterably wrong! All the former savannah supporters including myself must now swallow our earlier words …” In spite of this, the savannah ideas are apparently still taken for granted in most popular books and articles on human evolution. The decease of professor Tobias must be an opportunity for paleo-anthropologists to finally get rid of the dry savannah fantasies. If some hominids lived in savannahs, it must have been along the rivers, swamps and lakes there.
    It was Tobias’ predecessor at the Witwatersrand University, Raymond Dart, who helped the savannah ideas to become generally accepted. In the 1920s, geologists thought the climate in South Africa had not changed since the Pliocene, so Dart concluded that the Taung child (a human ancestor, he believed) had lived in dry grasslands. We now know that Taung was possibly no human ancestor, and moreover lived in “a more forested habitat, with denser cover along waterways” (Berger & Clarke 1995). For an updated view on ape and australopith evolution, google “aquarboreal”.
    Homo erectus, with its extremely heavy skeleton (i.e. pachyostosis, typical of littoral tetrapods), could not have practiced “endurance running” (a still popular idea, even among paleo-anthropologists). Apparently, archaic Homo spread to different continents and even islands such as Flores along coasts (Littoral Hypothesis), and from there inland along rivers. At and in the water, these dextrous omnivores butchered drowned ungulates and stranded whales, and collected shell- and crayfish, and other waterside foods rich in brain-specific nutrients such as DHA (Cunnane 2005). For an updated view on Homo evolution, google “econiche Homo”. For a short slide show on the littoral theory, google “vaneechoutte pediatrics”.
    One of the last publications of Professor Tobias was “Revisiting Water and Hominin Evolution”, the first chapter of an ebook devoted to our ancestors’ waterside evolution:
    Mario Vaneechoutte, Algis Kuliukas & Marc Verhaegen eds 2011 Bentham Science Publications,
    “Was Man More Aquatic in the Past? Fifty Years after Alister Hardy: Waterside Hypotheses of Human Evolution”.
    Although it is clear that Pleistocene Homo was much more aquatic than Homo sapiens is today, how aquatic they were is still debatable. Any scientific discussion of human evolution should take into account this ebook, which contains contributions of all major proponents of waterside hypotheses.

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