Showing posts with label evolution. Show all posts
Showing posts with label evolution. Show all posts

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Things I Learned From “Becoming Human,” part 2

This three-part series, Becoming Human, on PBS’s Nova covers new theories about how and why we evolved into human beings and is well worth watching. You can watch all of the episodes here, as well as view several interesting mini-programs about related topics. This post covers the major idea presented in episode 2, “The Birth of Humanity.” It’s a doozy.

2) Sweating made us human. Okay, bear with me. The big brains we got from climate change needed more food to operate. Our brains use more energy and food than any other organ in our body. To get more food, we turned to meat, which is loaded in calories, protein, and fat. To get meat, since humans don’t have claws, fangs, or great strength, we had to figure out a new way get our meat fix. Scientists now think we turned to persistence hunting, which is chasing the prey until it collapses from exhaustion and then killing it. The Bushmen of Africa still do this, chasing antelopes and other game for several hours in the heat of the day, when most animals are sleeping. It turns out that humans are unique in this capability; we can run for hours in the hottest temperatures because we traded fur for sweating. They think that losing our body hair or fur and gaining the ability to sweat happened at the same time as our brains started to get bigger. Most animals cool themselves by panting. Humans can sweat over their entire bodies which is a more effective method for cooling. Our bigger brains triggered a number of adaptations to support that growth. Because our brains got bigger, we started eating meat, lost our body hair, started sweating, and were able to run down prey for hours at a time. Oh, and our big brains and our new appetite for meat caused us to develop stone tool-making to “process” our kills and fire-making to cook the meat to make it more easily digestible. But the ability to sweat was the big change that enabled everything else. Cool.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Things I Learned From “Becoming Human,” part 1

This three-part series, Becoming Human, on PBS’s Nova covers new theories about how and why we evolved into human beings and is well worth watching. You can watch all of the episodes here, as well as view several interesting mini-programs about related topics. Some of the ideas being offered in Becoming Human are fairly new and have a lot of bearing on how we differ from the other great apes and by inference how we might compare to Bigfoot. I’ll cover the major ideas in each of the three episodes and wrap it all up in the final and third installment.

1) Climate change made us human. At one time, it was thought going from knuckle-walking to bipedalism is what triggered the growth of our brains. But there were bipedal apes staggering around Africa for 4 million years before there was a growth spurt in the brains department 2 million years ago, and then it was a upwards growth from then on. Scientists have now linked it to a long period of climate change in the Africa Rift Valley, where the climate swung back and forth between extreme drought and desertification to extreme rainy periods. This went on for a long time and the most successful bipedal apes were the ones that could adapt the easiest to the extreme changes in climate. The ones that could do this were the ones with bigger brains. They could think better with a bigger brain. The longer the climates changes continued, the bigger our brains got. So bigger brains enabled apes to adapt to their changing surroundings and to eventually adapt their surroundings to themselves—big brains, big advantage, big deal.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Planet where Ape Evolved from Man?

Charleston Heston's character from The Planet of The Apes series may have got it right.

According to a series of studies released today, a Skeleton of Ardi, 1.2-metre, 50-kilogram female may hold the clue.

Read the full Article here
In a series of studies released today by the journal Science, researchers have revealed a creature that took the first upright steps toward human beings and fundamentally changes the way we look at our earliest evolutionary ancestors.
The research brings into question the belief that our most distant ancestors descended from apes.

What's closer to the truth is that our knuckle dragging cousins descended from us.
Meet Ardi, a 1.2 metre, 50-kilogram female that is going to cause a big fuss throughout the anthropology world.

In 11 papers and summaries unveiled by the journal, researchers have revealed the partial skeleton of a creature that undoubtedly walked upright like our "hominid" predecessors, yet had many of the distinctive hallmarks of climbing apes.
Among other things, research on the 4.4 million year old creature suggests that humans are far more primitive in an evolutionary sense than the great apes -- like chimps and gorillas -- of today.

Lovejoy explains that the "hominid" lines of upright species that evolved, in fits and starts, into humans, have much more in common physiologically with Ardi than do modern chimpanzees.

"Hominids, it turns out to be, are pretty primitive," Lovejoy says

"We're pretty much unchanged, or let's say we're less changed since the last common ancestor with chimpanzees than are chimpanzees."

Lovejoy explains that the actual missing link -- or last common ancestor in scientific parlance -- may have first sprung up some six million years before Ardi - short for Ardipithecus ramidus.
The Star

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