Current Issues

Paleoanthropologists of the past and of today have discovered and continue to discover sites all over the Old World from Siberia to Australia, from England to South Africa, and from China to Portugal. Only relatively recently have scholars originating from Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Indonesia, and Australia joined the forefront of human origins science and it is certain that a brief history of human origins philosophy from their points of view would take different paths from the one rooted in Western Europe.

Table 1.1 Benchmark Discoveries in Human Origins and Evolution Science

1856 First Dryopithecus—Fossil ape from Europe

1856 First Neanderthal—Neander Valley, Germany

1868 First anatomically modern human fossil—Cro-Magnon, France

1891 First Homo erectus—Java, Indonesia

1924 First Australopithecus, "Taung Child"—Sterkfontein, South Africa

1959 "Zinj"—Paranthropus boisei skull, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

1960 Jane Goodall observes chimpanzees making and using tools in the wild

1961 First application of potassium-argon dating to hominin site—Olduvai Gorge 1967 Molecular clock theory is applied to human evolutionary studies

1974 "Lucy"—Australopithecus afarensis skeleton

1985 "Nariokotome boy"—Homo erectus skeleton

1995 First Ardipithecus—Oldest confirmed biped, Aramis, Ethiopia

1997 First ancient DNA of any fossil hominin (a Neanderthal) is analyzed

1999 Oldest bones butchered by stone tools are discovered at Bouri, Ethiopia

2000 Orrorin—Oldest purported biped, Tugen Hills, Kenya 2002 Sahelanthropus—Oldest hominin, Toros-Menalla, Chad 2000 Human genome is sequenced

2004 Homo floresiensis—The so-called "hobbits" of Indonesia

2005 Chimpanzee genome sequenced 2005 Only known fossil chimpanzee, Kenya

Many scientists currently working on human origins and evolution are only the first and second generation of intellectual offspring of the pioneers in the field. New fossil finds, new and improved dating methods, and new genetic analyses are constantly shaping and often overturning old ideas (Table 1.1).

Now that paleontologists have a considerable comparative fossil record of hominins, they are better at spotting the most fragmentary ones in the dirt or the mislabeled ones in museum drawers. And now instead of just a handful of fossil human ancestors, there are now literally thousands of specimens of at least eighteen different species (Figure 1.5).

Paleoanthropologists today are not as singularly focused on transitional ape-people as they were in the past. Since much of the hominin family tree has been filled in and since molecular (genetic) clocks have predicted the age of the split of the human and chimpanzee lineages, there is a priority on finding the earliest hominins and the earliest chimpanzees between 8 and 5 Mya.

With the expanding fossil record, the study of human origins and evolution can take place at many stages of prehistory and the field has broadened much further in scope than what Darwin, Huxley, and their cohort were pondering 150 years ago. The questions in Table 1.2 just

Millions of years ago

I | Early hominins I I Australopiths ■ Homo

H. rudolfensis

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