monkeys to humans than had the counterpart genes in rodents. The finding suggested that the brain has grown larger because a succession of new and more powerful versions of genes like microcephalin and ASPM were favored by natural selection. The most recent alleles of microcephalin and ASPM are just a continuation of this process, in Lahn's view. A firm conclusion from Lahn's finding is that human evolution continued after the dispersal of the ancestral population 50,000 years ago, and took different forms in different populations. Much of this evolution may have been convergent, as each population adapted with different alleles to the same challenges. But convergent evolution does not necessarily proceed in lockstep in each separate population. So it could be that the spread of the microcephalin allele some 37,000 years ago expanded the cognitive powers of Caucasian populations and underlay such striking cultural advances as the Aurignacian people's adeptness at painting caves, while other populations developed such capabilities later.356
When the ancestral human population dispersed across the world 50,000 years ago, evolution set in motion a grand experiment: each population, in its fiercely guarded territory, would develop in its own way. This development would be both cultural, leading to a vast family of different languages, religions and lifestyles, and also genetic, as the members of each society responded to different climates, ecologies and social arrangements of their own making. Isolated on their separate continents, the far flung branches of the human family were to follow different trajectories as each adapted to the strange world that lay beyond the boundaries of their ancestral homeland.
Was this article helpful?