had more gracile features, shorter stature and smaller teeth. Lahr believes that the more gracile features appearing in human skulls of the Upper Paleolithic "have a strong genetic basis," but her study is purely descriptive and she offers no explanation for the forces that might have driven the genetic change. The primatologist Richard Wrangham, however, has provided an intriguing insight into gracilization.
His argument goes as follows. Consider first the bonobos, who are much more peaceful and playful than chimpanzees. Their skulls look like those of juvenile chimpanzees, just as their behavior is more juvenile than that of chimpanzees. This kind of change is called pedomorphic—meaning a trend toward the juvenile form—in reference to the evolutionary process of developing a new species by truncating the fully mature development of the ancestral species. Bonobos presumably found themselves in an environment where aggression was less beneficial, and so evolution kept selecting individuals whose development was completed before the arrival of the aggressive traits typical of adult males.
Pedomorphic evolution is familiar to biologists in another context, that of domestication. Comparing dogs with wolves, the dog's skull and teeth are smaller and its skull looks like that of a juvenile wolf. The same process occurred when Dmitri Belyaev, in the experiment already discussed, set out to domesticate silver foxes. Belyaev selected foxes solely for tameness, but a whole set of other traits appeared in his animals along with the tolerance of people, including the white marks on the coat, curly hair, and smaller skulls and brains.
Viewed in this context, the gracilization of the human skull looks very much like one of those changes that come along for the ride when a species is undergoing pedomorphosis or domestication. Gracilization, Wrangham believes, occurred because early modern humans were becoming tamer. And who, exactly, was domesticating them? The answer is obvious: people were domesticating themselves. In each society the violent and aggressive males somehow ended up with a lesser chance of breeding. This process started some 50,000 years ago, and, in Wrangham's view, it is still in full spate. "I think that current evidence is that we're in the middle of an evolutionary event in which tooth size is falling, jaw size is falling, and it's quite reasonable to imagine that we're continuing to tame ourselves. . . . This puts humans in a picture of now undergoing a process of becoming increasingly a peaceful form
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