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The Ecology of Human Origins (Human Paleontology, Archeology, Paleoclimatology) Who are we, ecologically speaking? (Who am I?) NOT the title of a song by The Who NOT (in this class) based on anything other than the scientific evidence A question of taxonomy, cladistics, genetics

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the ecology of human origins

The Ecology of Human Origins

(Human Paleontology,

Archeology, Paleoclimatology)

who are we ecologically speaking who am i
Who are we, ecologically speaking?(Who am I?)
  • NOT the title of a song by The Who
  • NOT (in this class) based on anything other than the scientific evidence
  • A question of taxonomy, cladistics, genetics
  • Using fossils and lately, DNA evidence
  • Material culture finds, archeology
  • Anthropology, descriptions of “primitive” cultures
  • History of human settlement patterns and land use
  • Highly controversial, contested area of study
  • All kinds of fun, but also serious self-knowing
who are we great apes or pongids
Who are we?Great Apes or “Pongids”
  • Includes gorillas, chimps, baboons, gibbons
  • And all pre-hominid and hominid species
  • And YOU!

Parental care, mountain gorilla, Rwanda.

Slide by Michael “Nick” Nichols.

human paleontology 6 mya 1 mya
Human Paleontology 6 mya-1 mya
  • Between 6 and 1.5 million years ago, there were many different species of proto-hominid apes in Africa
  • Modern humans evolved from one of these species, but we don’t know for sure which one
  • We call these animals Australopithecines (southern ape-men)

Human taxonomy

With help from


From the Smithsonian Institution: Human Family Tree:

Interactive version:

  • Omnivorous apes (ecological adaptation)
  • Some fully bipedal
  • Many species, several million years in existence
  • Famously: Lucy, (A. afarensis)
  • Site: Hadar, Ethiopia

Lucy: a gracile australopithecine, and Hadar, Ethiopia, the site where she was found.

Slides: wikipedia, and Institute of Human Origins


From:The Ape that Took Over the World

BBC 2 TV program 9.00pm Thursday 4 October 2001

(Forensic reconstruction)


From:Viewpoint: Is It Time to Revise the System of Scientific Naming?

Lee R. Berger

for National Geographic News

December 4, 2001

“An anthropologist works on a model of an Australopithecus skull in a still from a television special on human origins”

Photograph by Karen Huntt

Forensic Reconstruction


From, Photograph by John Reader.

Fossilized footprints of an australopithecine family group crossing volcanic debris at Laetoli in Tanzania


From, Photograph by John Reader.

Close up of a footprint from Laetoli in Tanzania

technological ages of humanity the paleolithic
Technological Ages of Humanity: The Paleolithic
  • Paleo : old
  • Lithic: stone
  • The “Old Stone Age,” the age when humans used crude stone tools in hunting and gathering
  • During pleistocene epoch (highly glaciated climate)
  • Longest period of human history, longest successful ecological adaptation, covers all inhabited continents (ie, not Antarctica)
  • Homo habilis, H. ergaster, H. erectus, H. florensis H. sapiens neandertalis, H. sapiens sapiens,

From the Smithsonian Institution: Human Family Tree:

Interactive version:

homo habilis
Homo habilis
  • Olduvai Gorge site,
  • Tanzania
  • Leakey excavations
  • Proximity of tools
  • A possible shelter
  • Omnivore, scavenger
  • Using tools to fend off cats, dogs, other predators
  • Paleolithic (old stone age) culture

Slide: Institute of Human Origins


Impressions of Homo Habilis from the BBC show Food for Thought









homo erectus
Homo erectus
  • Rapid dispersion
  • Occupied much of Africa, Europe, Asia
  • (Therefore) highly adaptive to different ecosystems
  • Several different species
  • First use of fire

From the Smithsonian Institution: Human Family Tree:

Interactive version:


Artist’s impression of Homo erectus from

evidence of fire
Evidence of fire:

“From about 400 000 years ago proper hearths--rings of stones--burnt bones, and other clear evidence of fire become common throughout Europe. New finds are made nearly every year with recent discoveries, soon to be described in more detail, including Beeches Pit in Suffolk, Britain, and SchØ ningen in Germany.

“… the 400 000 year old SchØ ningen site is particularly significant because beautifully carved wooden spears and butchered horse remains were also found there. The wooden spears have been a huge shock to researchers, forcing them to accept that late Homo erectus was a skilled hunter and skilled tool maker.”

From: New Scientist, John McCrone, May 2000

homo sapiens neandertalis
Homo sapiens neandertalis
  • Most recent anatomically distinct relative (pending outcome of Homo floresiensisdebate)
  • Advanced stone tools
  • Cold hardy: survived glacial climates
  • Successful and widely dispersed
  • Highly sensationalized
  • “Higher” culture: possibly religion, music

From the Smithsonian Institution: Human Family Tree:

Interactive version:


From Channel 4 TV program “Neanderthal,”


“This reconstruction depicts the adult male Neanderthal unearthed at the Amud cave site in Israel.”

From Scott J. Brown: Neanderthals and Modern Humans A Regional Guide

neandertals are the first pre homo sapiens species for which we have dna dna evidence primer
Neandertals are the first pre- Homo sapiens species for which we have DNADNA evidence primer:
  • Basic to CSI
  • Basic to modern medicine
  • Tool for game wardens
  • And, basic to modern evolutionary theory
types of human dna
Types of human DNA
  • Nuclear, sexually recombining, DNA
      • Inherited equally from both parents, subject to Mendelian genetics
  • Y-chromosome DNA
      • Male line only
      • Inherited only from father to son
  • Mitochondrial DNA
      • Inherited only from the mother
mitochondrial dna analysis
Mitochondrial DNA Analysis
  • Mitochondria have their own genome of about 16,500 base pairs that exists outside of the (sexually reproducing) cell nucleus. Each contains 13 protein coding-genes.
  • They are present in large numbers in each cell, so fewer samples are required. 
  • They have a higher and more regular rate of mutation, unaffected by sexual recombination. The process of recombination in nuclear DNA (except the Y chromosome) mixes sections of DNA from the mother and the father creating a garbled genetic history.
  • They are inherited only from the mother, which allows tracing of a direct genetic line. 
  • Applies similarly to Y chromosome DNA

Adapted from Mitochondrial DNA Clarifies Human Evolution

by Max Ingman,

mitochondrial dna analysis38
Mitochondrial DNA Analysis
  • The FBI Laboratory began conducting studies on the feasibility of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis for human identity testing in the late 1980s. Laboratory research began on a protocol for using mtDNA sequencing in forensic casework in 1992. After the sequencing technique was validated, examinations on evidentiary samples began in June 1996.
  • MtDNA sequencing is often used in cases where biological evidence may be degraded or small in quantity. Cases in which hairs, bones, or teeth are the only evidence retrieved from a crime scene are particularly well-suited to mtDNA analysis. Missing persons cases can benefit from mtDNA testing when skeletonized remains are recovered and compared to samples from the maternal relatives or personal effects of missing individuals. Also, hairs recovered at crime scenes can often be used to include or exclude individuals using mtDNA testing. This review will examine the process of mitochondrial DNA typing, including the interpretation of results, the phenomenon of heteroplasmy, the mtDNA population database, presentation of mtDNA population statistics, quality assurance issues, and testimonial experience.

From Isenberg et al, Mitochondrial DNA Analysis at the FBI Laboratory,


From: Science, Science, 277:176-8ANTHROPOLOGY:

DNA From an Extinct Human

July 10, 1997

Patricia Kahn and Ann Gibbons


MtDNA from this Ice-Age skeleton from Wales suggests that modern humans living just after Neanderthals had vanished were already genetically like us

From Scott J. Brown: Neanderthals and Modern Humans A Regional Guide

out of africa mtdna
Out of Africa: MtDna
  • Cann RL, Stoneking M, Wilson AC.
  • Mitochondrial DNAs from 147 people, drawn from five geographic populations have been analysed by restriction mapping. All these mitochondrial DNAs stem from one woman who is postulated to have lived about 200,000 years ago, probably in Africa. All the populations examined except the African population have multiple origins, implying that each area was colonised repeatedly.
  • Abstract, Nature. 1992 Apr 2;356(6368):389-90.
homo sapiens sapiens
Homo sapiens sapiens
  • Spends the paleolithic in Africa during ice ages
  • Comes out of Africa to the Middle East and beyond repeatedly after about 100kya
  • Competitively excludes Homo sapiens neandertalis (?)
  • Spends the mesolithic in most of old world and colonizes the new world about 13.5 kya
  • Neolithic revolution about 10kya or so in Middle East
  • Copper, bronze, iron ages in the old world
  • New world remains in neolithic or mesolithic except for isolated use of copper and other soft metals (the Aztec gold)
technological ages of humanity the mesolithic
Technological Ages of Humanity: The Mesolithic
  • Meso : middle
  • Lithic: stone
  • The Middle Stone Age, the age when humans used more advanced stone tools in hunting and gathering
  • More dense populations, more intense utilization of resources, different ecosystems, resources, eg: shellfish
  • Term mesolithic only applies to Asian, Middle East, but similar niches were occupied by some paleo-americans
  • Sites: Hayonim Cave site, Israel
the mesolithic toolkit
The Mesolithic Toolkit
  • Small flint blades (microliths) and carefully produced flint axes, adzes, and picks were widespread
  • Ground stone axes were used in parts of northern and western Europe
  • Projectile points became smaller
  • People made permanent settlements for the first time
  • Source: Jason F. McBrayer.

Polished stone axe from Langdale Pike axe factory, and the Pike itself.

Sources: John Dawson and the Isle of Wight History center

from scott j brown neanderthals and modern humans a regional guide
From Scott J. Brown: Neanderthals and Modern Humans A Regional Guide

“For tens of thousands of years, the Neanderthals roamed as hunters and gatherers over the plains, forests, and mountains of northern and western Eurasia. Then during the middle of the last Ice Age, over a period of about 10 millennia, from roughly 40,000 to 30,000 years ago, a new type of human began to proliferate in the Neanderthals' domain.”


technical ages of humanity the neolithic
Technical Ages of Humanity:The Neolithic
  • Neo : new
  • Lithic: stone
  • The New Stone Age, the age when humans used advanced stone tools
  • Also a new adaptation: agriculture
  • And a New World: America:
  • Climate change movie
homo sapiens sapiens51
Homo sapiens sapiens
  • Us, that’s who
  • Not much different from neandertalis, but anatomic variation is measurable
  • Competes with and ecologically excludes neandertalis?
  • Share 98% of DNA with chimpanzees
  • Appears 100KYA or so
  • Advanced stone tools, culture, language
  • mtDNA analysis suggests modern humans are very closely related, from “out of Africa.”
  • There’s no discernable racial differences in existing “races” of human DNA, only superficial characteristics: so is there such a thing as race?

From the Smithsonian Institution: Human Family Tree:

Interactive version:


Scara Brae: A neolithic village site

From Orkney government:


From Orkney government:


From Orkney government:


Oetzi the Iceman while still frozen in the glacier, photographed by Helmut Simon upon the discovery of the body in September 1991.

  • In glacial ice for 5,300 years
  • Well-preserved, including DNA
  • An adze or ice-axe: copper working
  • Bow, arrows: a hunter
  • Grass cloak
  • Einkorn wheat: had contact with agricultural community or used both lifestyles

Where Oetzi was found, the Schnalstal glacier

From South Tyrol Museum of Archeology


“a cap, hide coat, grass cloak, leggings, belt, loincloth and a pair of shoes. It is remarkable that no woven materials were used, only tanned leather and a grass coat. The stitching threads were made mainly of animal sinews and only in part of plants, above all grasses and to a lesser extent bast.” From South Tyrol Museum web pages


“The Iceman was fully and efficiently equipped for his last trip into the high mountains. This enabled him to look after himself for a long time while he was away from home. He was also in a position to repair or replace by himself any piece of equipment which got damaged. In particular, the rationality and functionality of his equipment are worth emphasizing.”

From South Tyrol museum webpage

oetzi s last day from the bbc
Oetzi’s last day (from the BBC)

“According to the present DNA analysis, the last journey of the warrior/hunter was made through a coniferous woodland at an intermediate altitude, where he possibly had a first meal, composed of cereals, other plant food, and ibex meat, and ended with his death in a rocky basin at over 3,200 metres above sea level, not before his having had a further meal based on red deer meat and, possibly, cereals.

“Dr Rollo added: "We were very impressed by the quality of the meals he had. The diet of people living at this time included rabbit, rats, squirrel - all sorts of things. But the iceman, in his last two meals, had red deer and ibex meat. It was a real medieval banquet!"

oetzi s last day from the bbc64
Oetzi’s last day (from the BBC)

“Scientists have already established that Oetzi was about 159 centimetres (five feet, 2.5 inches) tall, 46 years old, arthritic, and infested with whipworm at the time of death.

“High levels of copper and arsenic in his hair indicate he had been involved in copper smelting.”

oetzi s last day from the bbc65
Oetzi’s last day (from the BBC)

“The wound in the hand suggests Oetzi may have been engaged in hand-to-hand combat very shortly before he died.

“The injury to the back of the shoulder has led some researchers to the view that Oetzi was shot as he fled the confrontation. “


A last battle?

From the BBC

  • The most reasonable, conservative scientific conclusions?
  • Not many…
  • We almost certainly came out of Africa
  • We aren’t too far from our closest relatives, genetically speaking
  • There’s probably no such thing as “race” since we are so indistinct from each other genetically and so close to chimps
other human ecological points of view with difficult political ramifications
Other human ecological points of view, with difficult political ramifications
  • We are animals
  • We are not peaceful animals
  • We are omnivorous
  • We have, and need, communities
  • We have religion, which is important socially
  • We die out and become extinct like other animals