Intelligence and technology have made humans one of the most adaptable species, and also the most ecologically dominant. With this dominance we have surpassed levels of planetary sustainability and are causing a modern mass extinction.
Walking on two legs, or ‘bipedalism’, is one of the key characteristics defining humans and our early ancestors. But what an odd way to walk and run. In this SciCafe, join Museum Curator Brian Richmond and Jeremy DeSilva from Boston University in exploring the great advantages of walking on two legs that allow us to be human, as well as the unfortunate consequences of evolving bipedalism from a body plan designed to walk on four, not two, legs.
Evolutionary medicine uses the basic science of evolutionary biology to improve the understanding, prevention and treatment of disease. Instead of just asking how the body works and why it goes awry, it also asks why natural selection left us with so many traits like wisdom teeth and the narrow birth canal that leave us vulnerable to disease. The old answer--the limits of natural selection--is important, but there are five other important explanations for vulnerability.
Walking upright on two legs is the hallmark of the human lineage. Understanding when and how we made the transition to this unique way of moving about the world is key to deciphering how, and why, we evolved. In recent decades, more bones associated with the trunk have been discovered for fossil hominins, shedding new light on the evolution of body form in apes and humans. New 3D imaging technologies allow us to study these fossils in new ways. These insights into the evolution of human body form paint a striking picture of the transition from ape to hominin, leading to a new way of thinking about our origins.
Karen B. Strier will trace the behavioral, ecological, and demographic changes over her 31-year study of a growing population of one of the world’s most critically endangered primates, the northern muriqui of Brazil. The northern muriqui has captured international attention for its exceptionally peaceful behavior and egalitarian society. Yet today, fewer than 1,000 individuals remain in only about a dozen isolated forest fragments in southeastern Brazil.
For many years, Frans de Waal has observed chimpanzees soothe distressed neighbors and bonobos share their food. In this talk, based on his book, The Bonobo and the Atheist, he will deliver fascinating evidence for the seeds of ethical behavior in primate societies that further cements the case for the biological origins of human fairness.
Everything that humans do today - from breathing and walking to falling in love, typing on a computer, or driving a car - we do because our biology enables us to do it. That biology, our biology, is the result of millions and millions of years of evolution.
The lecture, adapted for the Grainger Sky Theater’s unique 360-degree dome environment, will lead the audience on a journey through seven evolutionary snapshots that trace our lineage from before the split with chimpanzees to inhabiting six of the seven continents we live on today. Along the way, Dr. Hlusko will explore how human evolution, geography, and climate change are intertwined and how humans are subject to the same evolutionary forces that influence all of Earth’s life forms.
How and why is the human body the way it is? What did evolution adapt our bodies for? And how is the human body changing today? Lieberman will examine the major evolutionary transformations that shaped the human body since we diverged from the apes, and how our bodies have further evolved and changed for the better and the worse since the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. Full event post >
David Lordkipanidze, Ph.D. is the General Director of the National Museum of Georgia. His research is based at Dmanisi, the world famous archaeological site. He and his colleagues there have received the total of 11 grants over the past 15 years. More details to follow. Full event post >
Laurie Santos explores the roots of human irrationality by watching the way our primate relatives make decisions. Recent experiments in "monkeynomics" demonstrate that monkeys make some of the same silly financial choices we do. But there are also ways in which humans are uniquely irrational, and sometimes monkeys make smarter choices. Full event post >
The accidental discovery of Lascaux cave forever changed our perception of our prehistoric ancestors. This discovery offered the world an unexplored cave, rich in beautiful imagery. The international scientific community and the general public flocked to see it, rapidly destabilizing its fragile environment. Lascaux has become a laboratory for the conservation of decorated caves. The story of its preservation will greatly improve our knowledge of these complex environments. Full event post >
Modern human behavior, ranging from tool use to cooking to agriculture to industrial food processing, has allowed us colonize virtually every environment on earth – and even parts of outer space. Our love of grains and tubers has increased the number of our starch-digesting genes, and our taste for dairy has genetically altered at least 10% of the human population to do something no other mammal can do – digest milk after weaning.
We have turned grassy weeds into corn, cyanide laced seeds into almonds, and bitter flowers into broccoli. And we are not alone - we carry within us trillions of microbes that we feed with the indigestible, fibrous parts of our diets, and they in turn make our vitamins, protect us from food poisoning and food allergies, and modulate our metabolism.
Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged will present data from isotopic studies and examine the evidence for the first major expansion of the hominin diet, millions of years ago, to include more grasses and animals. This adaptation was the precursor that made future expansion possible. Dr. Christina Warinner will then explore more recent changes in human diet, from 50,000 years ago to the present, and discuss how these changes have fundamentally affected human biology, ecology, and societies.
Tickets: $15/$12 (for members of The Leakey Foundation)
Dr. Zeray Alemseged
Irvine Chair & Senior Curator of Anthropology, California Academy of Sciences
Zeray Alemseged is Irvine Chair and Senior Curator of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences and is both an Adjunct Professor at UC Davis and a Research Professor at San Francisco State. His research focuses on the evolution of the earliest human ancestors, and the environmental and ecological factors affecting their evolutionary processes. He has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals, such as Nature, Sciences, PNAS, the Journal of Human Evolution and the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and his research has been featured in many high profile media including, CNN, NOVA-PBS, BBC, TED. Zeray is a founder and director of the Dikika Research Project and is most well known for his discovery of Selam, the almost complete skeleton of a three-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, often referred to as “the world’s oldest child”.
Dr. Christina Warinner
Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma
Christina Warinner is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma and a Research Affiliate of the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zürich, Switzerland. Her research focuses on the evolutionary and ecological relationships between humans, their diets, and their resident microbes (microbiomes) in both modern and ancient populations. Christina has conducted archaeological research around the world, from the Himalayas of Nepal to the Maya jungles of Belize to the Mixteca Alta of Mexico, where most recently she used historical sources and light stable isotope analysis to investigate the early dietary impacts of Spanish colonialism. Christina is a 2012 TED Fellow, and her TED talks on ancient human diets and genetic analyses of fossilized dental plaque have been viewed more than 500,000 times. She is an author of the book Veiled Brightness: A History of Ancient Maya Color, and her new edited volume, Methods and Theory in Paleoethnobotany, is press at the University Press of Colorado. She has published widely in peer-reviewed journals, and her research has been featured in Wired UK, The Observer, CNN, Fox News, and Scientific American, among others.
with Dr. Daniel Lieberman
Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology
and the Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences, Harvard University
How and why is the human body the way it is? What did evolution adapt our bodies for? And how is the human body changing today? To address these questions, this lecture will examine the major evolutionary transformations that shaped the human body since we diverged from the apes, and how our bodies have further evolved and changed for the better and the worse since the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. As we try to chart a better future for the human body, thinking about our evolutionary past is more relevant than ever for preventing the expanding burden of chronic diseases whose symptoms we must increasingly treat.
Presented in collaboration with SciCafe.
Doors Open at 6:30 PM, Event at 7:00 PM
Free admission, with cash bar; 21+ with ID
Daniel Lieberman is the Professor and Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, the Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences, a Harvard College Professor at Harvard University, and a member of the Scientific Executive Committee of the LSB Leakey Foundation. He was educated at Harvard (AB ‘86, PhD ’93) and Cambridge (M.Phil. ’97). His research is on how and why the human body is the way it is, with particular foci on the origins of bipedalism, how humans became superlative endurance runners, and the evolution of the highly unusual human head. Lieberman has published 3 books and more than 100 articles. His latest books are “The Evolution of the Human Head (Harvard University Press, 2011), and “The Story of the Human Body” (Pantheon, 2013).