HUMAN EVOLUTION

HUMAN EVOLUTION

Human evolution is the lengthy process of change by which people originated from apelike ancestors. Scientific evidence shows that the physical and behavioral traits shared by all people originated from apelike ancestors and evolved over a period of approximately six million years.  One of the earliest defining human traits, bipedalism — the ability to walk on two legs — evolved over 4 million years ago. Other important human characteristics — such as a large and complex brain, the ability to make and use tools, and the capacity for language — developed more recently. Many advanced traits — including complex symbolic expression, art, and elaborate cultural diversity — emerged mainly during the past 100,000 years.

Human evolution from its first separation from the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees is characterized by a number of morphological, developmental, physiological, and behavioral changes. The most significant of these adaptations are bipedalism, increased brain size, lengthened ontogeny (gestation and infancy), and decreased sexual dimorphism. The relationship between these changes is the subject of ongoing debate. Other significant morphological changes included the evolution of a power and precision grip, a change first occurring in H. erectus.

Bipedalism

There are many theories that attempt to explain why humans are bipedal. Twentieth-century theories proposed a wide array of other factors that might have driven the evolution of hominin bipedalism: carrying objects, wading to forage aquatic foods and to avoid shoreline predators, vigilantly standing in tall grass, presenting phallic or other sexual display, following migrant herds on the savanna, and conserving energy (bipedalism expends less energy than quadrupedism). Furthermore, if the early bipeds were regularly exposed to direct midday tropical sunlight, they would benefit from standing upright in two ways: less body surface would be exposed to damaging solar rays, and they would find relief in the cooler air above the ground.

Some scientists assume that the pre-bipedal primates were terrestrial quadrupeds, perhaps even knuckle-walkers like modern-day chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. Conversely, it is also possible that the first habitual walkers were already well prepared for terrestrial bipedality, having adaptations for running bipedally among branches and boughs, standing upright to forage overhead, and climbing vertical tree trunks and vines. This scenario is suggested by studies of gibbons, which routinely engage in these arboreal activities and virtually never elect to move on the forest floor but, if forced to the ground, run bipedally.

Gibbons have relatively long, powerful lower limbs, the same number of lumbar vertebrae that humans have (great apes have fewer), and chests of humanoid configuration. When walking on the ground, gibbons stand up straighter than chimpanzees, which are occasionally bipedal. Moreover, they exert less energy running on the ground than when running bipedally along branches or climbing vertically. Adopting a bipedal stance with full extension of the lower limbs thus would not have been a major challenge, since all apes have this capacity, though there would have been some alteration of the lower limb bones, joints, and ligaments. The foot would probably have gone through the most dramatic change, from a prehensile organ to a heel-supported, propellent one. Increased size and frequent, sustained erect standing on extended lower limbs in order to forage overhanging branches in woodland, thicket, forest edge, and other relatively open habitats would favour the evolution of humanoid hip, knee, and foot structure. While consuming their harvests, bipedal foragers may have squatted often, thereby further selecting for robust heels and for weight distribution between the heel and forefoot and between closely placed feet. Frequent squatting and rising would enhance development of the hamstring, buttock, and anterior thigh muscles (as hip and knee extensors), which are vital for athletic bipedalism. Stretching upward would select for shorter toes and an arched foot. Refinement of the terrestrial bipedal complex probably did not occur until hominins became less dependent upon trees for daytime refuge and other activities and began to forage widely afoot and perhaps to trek seasonally over long distances.

Encephalization

The theory of encephalization is developed from elementary dimensional requirements for the construction of a brain of given size. The basic assumption in the theory is that most of the brain in vertebrates is constructed as a series of mappings repeated at various levels. Encephalization is seen as a composite of an amplification factor for the repeated mappings (identical with the encephalization quotient EQ) and a factor associated with “added” tissue. The latter may be viewed as tissue that corresponds to new functions. The relation of the theory to allometric analysis is a relationship of theory to empirical estimation of “expected” brain size at a given body size. But body size is not fundamental to the theory. It is merely one of several possible sources of a measure of the area of a basic mapping, as it were, which is then subject to the amplification factor. Issues in the use of encephalization to assess behavioral capacities are reviewed briefly, as are the neurobiological correlates of encephalization and brain size.

Sexual dimorphism

Sexual dimorphism is the systematic difference in form between individuals of different sex in the same species. .The phenomenon of sexual dimorphism is a direct product of evolution by natural selection, in that the struggle for reproductive success drives many male and female organisms down different evolutionary paths. This can produce forms of dimorphism which, on the face of it, would actually seem to disadvantage organisms. For instance, the bright coloration of male game birds makes them highly visible targets for predators, while the drab females are far better equipped to camouflage themselves. Likewise, the antlers of deer and other forms of natural weaponry are very expensive to grow and carry in terms of the energy consumed by the animal in the process.

The answer to this apparent paradox is that, at a biological level, the reproductive success of an organism is often more important than its long-term survival. This is particularly apparent in the case of game birds: a male Common Pheasant in the wild often lives no more than 10 months, with females living twice as long. However, a male pheasant’s ability to reproduce depends not on how long he lives but whether females will select him to be their mate. His bright coloration demonstrates to the female that he is fit, healthy and a good choice to father her chicks.  In the case of herd animals such as deer, a male deer’s reproductive success is directly proportional to the number of sexually receptive females with which he can mate. The males’ antlers are an example of a sexually dimorphic weapon with which the males fight each other to establish breeding rights. Again, although they are expensive in terms of personal survival, they ensure that the largest and strongest males will be the most successful in reproducing and thereby ensure that those characteristics are passed on to the next generation.

 

Study of historical evolution of human

Pre Darwin era

The word homo, the name of the biological genus to which humans belong, is Latin for “human”. It was chosen originally by Carl Linnaeus in his classification system. The word “human” is from the Latin humanus, the adjectival form of homo. The Latin “homo” derives from the Indo-European root “earth”. Linnaeus and other scientists of his time also considered the great apes to be the closest relatives of humans based on morphological and anatomical similarities.

Darwin’s theory

The theory of evolution by natural selection, first formulated in Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, is the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits. Changes that allow an organism to better adapt to its environment will help it survive and have more offspring.  Evolution by natural selection is one of the best substantiated theories in the history of science, supported by evidence from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including paleontology, geology, genetics and developmental biology.

The theory has two main points, said Brian Richmond, curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “All life on Earth is connected and related to each other,” and this diversity of life is a product of “modifications of populations by natural selection, where some traits were favored in and environment over others,” he said.  More simply put, the theory can be described as “descent with modification,” said Briana Pobiner, an anthropologist and educator at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who specializes in the study of human origins.  The theory is sometimes described as “survival of the fittest,” but that can be misleading, Pobiner said. Here, “fitness” refers not to an organism’s strength or athletic ability, but rather the ability to survive and reproduce.  he theory has two main points, said Brian Richmond, curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “All life on Earth is connected and related to each other,” and this diversity of life is a product of “modifications of populations by natural selection, where some traits were favored in and environment over others,” he said. More simply put, the theory can be described as “descent with modification,” said Briana Pobiner, an anthropologist and educator at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who specializes in the study of human origins. The theory is sometimes described as “survival of the fittest,” but that can be misleading, Pobiner said. Here, “fitness” refers not to an organism’s strength or athletic ability, but rather the ability to survive and reproduce.

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