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An Introduction to Evolutionary Anthropology



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Evolutionary anthropology is the study of the evolution of man. This is an extremely broad subject since there are signs of primate life as far back as 55 million years ago. When I think of evolution, I still think of stand up comedian Jay London. If you've never seen him, picture an extremely massive man with a huge bone structure, a hunched back and long, frizzy black hair. One of his many "one liners" is "You might recognize me. I'm the fourth guy from the left on the evolutionary chart."

How do we know what we evolved from or if we evolved at all? The secret is embedded in the Earth. The human story, that is the story in which we came to be the species we are today comes from fossils and other evidence of habitation. Archaeologists and paleontologists work to uncover this story by digging up this evidence.

The earliest biped of a subhuman form was found to have lived about 4 million years ago. We know this species of prehistoric man as Australopithecus. The most famous of the evidence pertaining to the Australopithecus was a fully enact female skull. We know her as "Lucy". This female was said to have lived about 3.2 to 3.5 million years ago.

Around 2.5 million years ago, a species we know as Homo habilis makes its appearance. Their brain volume is about 25% greater than their predecessors. The facial features tend to appear more like a human's in that its face protrudes a little less. This is also the first evidence of the use of tools.

In Africa about 2 million years ago, the Homo ergaster appeared. The brain volume was about one third greater in size than the Homo habilis. There's evidence that shows that Homo erectus was in Asia approximately 1.8 to 1.5 million years ago. This species were the first to have hunted and gathered for food. This species was said to have existed until about 200,000 years ago. As they were disappearing, Neanderthals began to appear. They were in existence about 28,000 years ago.

So when did our species make its first appearance? That's a great question and there are many sides to the debate, but the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens was found in Ethiopia approximately 195,000 years ago. From that point forward, there have been several advancements, obviously. For instance, the first sign of long-distance trade is believed to have been about 140,000 years ago. The first actual villages were developed about 10,000 years ago. About 5,000 years ago was the earliest known writing. The first known civilization was the Sumerians of Mesotopia. This development took place in or around 4,000 BC.

This is a very brief overview of evolutionary anthropology, but I don't think it's a bad overview for summarizing 4 million years of history into a few hundred words!

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