Trying to understand our human origins has always been a fundamental part of who we are. One of the core things we want to know is how we came to be. Thousands of years ago, human civilizations developed elaborate stories to explain the origins of humans. But today, with the help of dramatic archaeological discoveries and groundbreaking advancements in technology and scientific understanding, we are closer than ever before to learning the true story. In recent decades, paleoanthropology has exploded, bringing us closer than ever before to making sense of this controversial subject and providing us with a richer understanding of our origins. It’s also sparked continued debate among the greatest minds in the field and prompted anthropologists to revise, update, and even, in some cases, overturn ideas and theories about key issues in human evolution.
- Was Australopithecus afarensis really our earliest ancestor?
- Did early humans evolve in Africa alone, or in regions throughout the world?
- Do Neandertals play an important role in our genetic heritage and, if so, how?
- Why did prehistoric humans form cooperative communities and create art?
Complete your understanding of the most up-to-date science behind our origins with The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates. Delivered by expert paleoanthropologist and professor John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, these 24 lectures bring you to the forefront of scientific arguments and questions that will become more important in the coming years. Surveying both the questions that continue to rile the world’s greatest minds in anthropology and the cutting-edge science responsible for them, this course is an expert guide to the wide-ranging debates over the most essential questions we can ask. Meticulously crafted and packed with insights, this rewarding and sometimes even provocative course is a fascinating investigation of the branches, trunk, and roots of the greatest family tree there is.
Profound Answers to Questions about Your Origins
Each lecture of The Rise of Humans focuses on a single profound question about human origins and the sometimes surprising, sometimes fierce, and always illuminating debates surrounding them. You’ll learn how paleoanthropologists have used everything from the tiniest fossil remains (such as teeth and fragments of jawbones) and stone tools to DNA sequencing and genetic mapping in an effort to definitively determine how we got to be the way we are today.
Here are just four of the many exciting debates Professor Hawks describes in this masterful course.
- Was Africa or Asia more central to human origins? Charles Darwin believed that Africa was the most likely place for humans to have originated because of our relationship to African apes. Other scientists, such as Ernst Haeckel, argued that Southeast Asia was the most likely site of human origins because geography would have differentiated us from African apes. While it’s now clear that early hominins were all found in Africa, debate continues over whether our genus Homo might have involved a time of evolution in Asia.
- What did prehistoric cultural groups look like? Early archaeologists systematized the stone tool traditions in prehistory by recognizing types of artifacts that might be found in one tradition and not others. The debate over two different perspectives on differences in stone tools—that they reflect different traditions or that they reflect the tasks a single group of prehistoric people performed—has deepened our understanding of rich archaeological sites.
- How long ago did humans reach the New World? Scrutiny over archaeological discoveries in the United States led to the “Clovis first” hypothesis, which held that the first humans to enter the New World came over ice sheets that once covered northern North America about 12,000 years ago. Yet during the 1990s, geneticists began to contribute to the debate, tracing the origins of today’s American Indians to a small population that left Asia sometime closer to 15,000 years ago.
- How important was symbolic representation to modern humans? Prehistoric art found in caves throughout France and Spain show a growing interest among our ancestors for artistically representing the world. Anthropologists still debate the importance of this kind of representation to our evolution; some argue that prehistoric art is fundamental to our cultural abilities, while others posit that it’s merely a side effect of human intelligence.
Reunite with Some of Your Earliest Ancestors
With these lectures, you’ll travel across time and around the world, from Ethiopia and Tanzania to Pakistan and Java to Sumatra and North America. You’ll peer over the shoulders of archaeologists as they unearth fossils, tools, and other artifacts from the earth and reconstruct the bodies and lives of our earliest ancestors. You’ll follow geneticists as they use mitochondrial DNA to draw startling connections between prehistoric human populations from around the world. And you’ll encounter some of our most intriguing distant relatives.
- Australopithecus afarensis: In the 1970s, paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey uncovered evidence for the earliest known hominin in Tanzania, at a site that preserved not only the jaws and teeth of this prehistoric species but also fossil footprints showing its adaptation to upright walking. Paleoanthropologists still argue over whether better evidence for the ancestry of Homo will come from A. afarensis or some earlier, as-yet-unknown species.
- Homo habilis: A series of skulls dating back to around 2 million years, with larger brains than other species, was described by paleoanthropologist Philip Tobias as the earliest members of our genus Homo. With a body like Australopithecus and a meat-based diet, H. habilis could be part of our genus; although with some evidence of Homo erectus dating back to the same age as these fossils, it could be a totally different kind of hominin.
- Homo floresiensis: A recent burning debate in paleoanthropology is over the identity of Homo floresiensis. A fossil skull found on the island of Flores suggests an extremely small-bodied population with individuals about three to four feet tall. Found together with indigenous animals such as pygmy mastodons and giant storks, these “hobbits” could represent a unique population of humans isolated from the rest of humanity.
- Neandertals: Neandertals were the earliest fossil humans to have been found and, at the time of their discovery, there was debate over whether they were our ancestors or part of a much less specialized population. We now understand that humans and Neandertals trace a common ancestry to sometime before 250,000 years ago and that the early population of Europe may reflect the emerging Neandertal population. In fact, people of European descent can have up to 4% of Neandertal genes in their DNA.
Your Guide to Human Evolutionary History
What makes The Rise of Humans so unique is the approach Professor Hawks brings toward explaining the field’s hottest debates. One of the first paleoanthropologists to study fossil evidence and genetic information together in order to test hypotheses about human prehistory, Professor Hawks is adept at looking at human origins not just with one lens, but with two.
He has traveled around the world to examine delicate skeletal remains and pore over the complex results of genetic testing. His research and scholarship on human evolutionary history has been featured in a variety of publications, including Science, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Slate, and Journal of Human Evolution.
But more than that, Professor Hawks has crafted a course that demonstrates the passion and excitement involved in the field of paleoanthropology. With his engaging lecturing style and his use of fossil finds taken from his personal collection, Professor Hawks will capture your attention and show you all the drama and excitement to be found in eavesdropping on the latest debates about human evolutionary history.
So join him for this engrossing and eye-opening learning experience—one that will bring you to the cusp of our 21st-century knowledge about the origin of humans, that will fill in critical gaps in your understanding of where we come from, and that will better prepare you for the great discoveries and fresh debates of tomorrow.
Visit Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates (The Great Courses) to read more...