Hominin Evolution Essay
Human evolution is a dynamic field of study with a variety of challenges. Throughout my lectures you will come across many debates that concern phylogenetics (who is related to whom), Classification, Behaviors, Selective Pressures, and the Interpretation of Traits. It seems that the more fossils we find, the more complicated our history becomes. Diversity becomes variation just as variation becomes diversity and theories on adaptations become completely abandoned or redesigned. Seeing how every researcher seems to think they are right, and we only have so many fossils, it is really difficult to teach this without contrasting some opinion and therefore injecting bias into the dialog. Regardless, I tried to stick to the facts and offer different sides of most debates.
My goal with this final assignment (and final unit) is to give you an idea of the course of human evolution. There is no way to avoid discussions of particular fossil species in such an endeavor, but these are incidental and not the primary takeaway. Their adaptations, however, are of great interest and help depict the trajectory of our lineage. Your final assignment is to use the fossil record to discuss our current understanding of human evolution. I have provided a tentative outline below. While I would like you to hit each point in your paper, you do not need to follow the outline exactly (you can mix up the progression of points). Please use your own words! I spent a long time writing out the notes for each lecture and would rather not have them written back to me. Your paper should be in the ballpark of 1500-2000 words. Its okay to go over 2000 words but not under 1500.
Adaptive vs. Phylogenetic perspectives
Complications of applying a phylogenetic outline
Adaptive radiations instead of phylogenetic trees
How we define Hominins
Bipedal morphology (what traits determine a biped and why)
Changing environment leads to new pressures
Environment and the Australopithecus apadtations
Early Australopithecus (fossil species)
The 2.5 million year Australopithecus divergence (robust and gracile forms and adaptive strategies)
The Genus Homo
Separating late Australopithecines and Early Homo
Why so smart? Thoughts behind brain development and encephalization increase.
The role of stone tools (including the thoughts on Australopithecine tool use)
Homo erectus and beyond
The many features of Homo erectus
Technology, endurance, and exploration (how the advanced morphology benefited the species)
Post-erectus grade hominins or, heidelbergensis (how small populations paved the way for a final split)
Neanderthals vs. sapiens (the differences in morphology and culture)