Origins of the genus Homo, BU “Dialogue” series

Staying on the topic of human evolution, I can recommend the following discussion, recorded a couple of years ago as part of the “Dialogue” series organized by the Department of Anthropology at Boston University:
The Mysterious Origins of the Genus Homo (Boston University, Dialogues in Biological Anthropology).

The past 4 million years can be divided into two broad chunks when thinking about the story of human evolution: from about 4.2 to 2 million years ago, it’s the story of the genus Australopithecus, then from about 2 million years ago, it becomes the story of the genus Homo. Far from the simplified version we all learned in primary/middle school, which may deceptively lead us to form a much clearer picture of human evolution than what the reality is, the origins of the genus Homo are still the subject of intense research. New fossil discoveries and new analyses allow researchers to refine or re-evaluate their hypotheses, and the discovery of Australopithecus sediba and the Dmanisi skulls are two important examples of recent advances in our understanding of human evolution.

In this BU Dialogue seminar, two researchers were invited to discuss on the topic of the origins of the genus Homo:
– Dr. Lee R. Berger (Reader in Human Evolution and the Public Understanding of Science, Institute for Human Evolution, School of GeoSciences, University of the Witwatersrand)
– Dr. Adam van Arsdale (Department of Anthropology, Wellesley).

Both anthropologists first give an interesting presentation of what they have worked on:
– Dr Berger: fossils of Australopithecus sediba, discovered in South Africa (Malapa),
– Dr van Arsdale: fossils of early Homo found in Asia (Georgia, Dmanisi).
The two presentations include slides showing the different fossils discussed, and descriptions of the features of these fossils that are suggestive of ape-like or human-like characteristics.

After the presentations, the researchers discuss the origins of the genus Homo, and among other things, the place of sediba in an evolutionary context between Australopithecus and Homo, the doubts concerning the first representatives of the genus Homo and their classification (for example the fossils of Homo habilis found in Africa), how to define the origins of Homo – based on the emergence of what characteristics, and what could be a possible ancestor of the genus Homo.

This mini-seminar may be a bit advanced here and there, but definitely worth looking at to learn more about Australopithecus and Homo.


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