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Are You Sure We Are Descended From Homo Erectus?

Are You Sure We Are Descended from Homo Erectus?
There was a theory that we are descended from a long lineage of H. Erectus, that our brains have been getting bigger for millions of years and so on. But discoveries made over the past 15 years have challenged almost every part of this story. How do we now relate to the traditional ‘Savannah Hypothesis’ and to Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Professor Andrew T. Chamberlain, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester joins the program.
Professor Chamberlain describes recent discoveries as being very important. They challenge the theory that we all learned at school, that important evolutionary changes occurred in the Savannah in Africa. “Prior to the discovery of these earlier fossils, a lot of the evidence we were talking about is from the Savannah; open grassland environments, but when we go back earlier than 4 million years we are finding that these earlier human ancestors actually lived in forested or in mixed environments. …we are fairly confident that the Savannah Hypothesis doesn’t explain the origins of the human lineage. The key adaptation we are talking about is bipedalism, walking on your hind legs, and that means walking on the ground.”

The new discoveries challenge the idea that we are all descendants from H. Erectus. Professor Chamberlain says: “What we have a good sense of now is that at any one moment of time there are in fact several lineages, and that means that tracing the lineage of humans, H. Sapiens is a little bit difficult, and even tracing this species back to H. Erectus when there are other species that we could be related to, is slightly questionable.”

If several species may have existed at the same time, that means that they partitioned resources, which means that early humans may not have been determined to eradicate each other. The basic aggressive nature of hominins is not questioned however by Professor Chamberlain.

The effect of climate change is discussed but as Professor Chamberlain points out: “From H. Erectus onwards, the effect of climate change becomes less important because culture provides ways of solving problems caused by a changing environment. Most animals have to move along with changes in their habitat. But humans become to a certain extent able to overcome that, they become adapted to a broad range of environments. After that point it doesn’t matter too much if the climate changes suddenly because they can cope with it, and they could probably cope with it better than we are coping with it today.”

The program closes with a discussion on whether the new discoveries change our acceptance of basic Darwinian theory.

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