Ancient humans forged hybrid species at critical periods of our evolution

the scientific study of human evolution historically assured us of a comforting order to things. He has painted humans as smarter, more intellectual, and more caring than our ancient predecessors.

From archeological reconstructions of hunched, hairy, brutish Neanderthals to “caveman” movies, our ancient ancestors got a bad press.

In the last five years, discoveries have changed this lopsided view. In my recent book, Hidden Depths: The Origins of Human ConnectionI argue that this is important for how we see ourselves today and how we imagine our future, as well as our understanding of our past.

Six revelations stand out.

6. There are more human species than we imagine

species like Homo longus they have only recently been identified in 2018. There are now 21 known species of humans.

In recent years we have realized that our Homo sapiens The ancestors may have known as many as eight of these different types of humans, from stocky, stocky species including Neanderthals and their close relatives Denisovans to short (less than 5 feet tall) and small-brained humans like Homo naledi.

But Homo sapiens they were not inevitable evolutionary destiny. They also don’t fit into any simple linear progression or ladder of progress. Homo nalediThe brain may have been smaller than that of a chimpanzee, but there is evidence that they were culturally complex and mourned their dead.

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Neanderthals created symbolic art, but they were not like us. Neanderthals had many different biological adaptations, which may have included hibernation.

5. Hybrid humans are part of our history

Hybrid species of humans, once viewed by experts as science fiction, may have played a key role in our evolution. Evidence for the importance of hybrids comes from genetics. The trace is not only in the DNA of our species (which often includes important genes inherited from Neanderthals), but also in the skeletons of hybrids.

An example is “Denny”, a girl with a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father. Her bones were found in a cave in Siberia.

4. We got lucky

Our evolutionary past is more complicated than scientists used to think. Have you ever had problems with back pain? Or did she gaze jealously at his dog as he strolled through a jagged landscape?

That should have been enough to show you that we are far from perfectly suited. We have long known that evolution improvises solutions in response to an ecosystem that may have already changed. However, many of the changes in our human evolutionary lineage may be the result of chance.

For example, where isolated populations have a characteristic, such as some aspect of their appearance, that makes little difference to their survival, and this form continues to change in descendants. Characteristics of Neanderthal faces (such as their pronounced eyebrows) or bodies (including large rib cages) could simply be due to genetic drift.

Epigenetics, which is where genes are only activated in specific environments, also complicates things. Genes can predispose someone to depression or schizophrenia, for example. However, they can only develop the condition if it is triggered by things that happen to them.

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3 Our destiny is intertwined with nature

We may like to imagine ourselves as masters of the environment. But it is increasingly clear that ecological changes have shaped us.

The origins of our own species coincided with major changes in climate as we became more distinct from other species in these times. All other species of humans appear to have become extinct as a result of climate change.

Three great human species Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensisY homo neanderthalensis it became extinct with major changes in climate, such as the Adams event. This was a temporary collapse of the Earth’s magnetic field 42,000 years ago, which coincided with the extinction of the Neanderthals.

2. Kindness is an evolutionary advantage

Research has uncovered new reasons to be hopeful about future human societies. Scientists used to believe that the violent parts of human nature helped us climb the ladder of evolution.

But evidence has emerged of the caring side of human nature and its contribution to our success. The ancient skeletons show remarkable signs of survival from disease and injury, which would have been difficult, if not impossible, without help.

The trail of human compassion goes back a million and a half years. Scientists have traced medical knowledge back to at least the time of the Neanderthals.

Altruism has many important survival benefits. It allowed older members of the community to pass on important knowledge. And medical care kept expert hunters alive.

1. We are a sensitive species

Evolution made us more emotionally exposed than we like to imagine. Like domestic dogs, with whom we share many genetic adaptations, such as increased tolerance for strangers and sensitivity to social cues, human hypersociability comes at a price: emotional vulnerabilities.

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We are more sensitive to how the people around us feel and more vulnerable to social influences; we are more prone to emotional disturbances, loneliness, and depression than our predecessors. Our complex feelings may not always be pleasant to live with, but they are part of key transformations that have created large and connected communities. Our emotions are essential to human collaboration.

This is a much less reassuring view of our place in the world than the one we had five years ago. But seeing ourselves as selfish, rational and entitled to a privileged place in nature has not worked well. Just read the latest reports on the state of our planet.

If we accept that humans are not a pinnacle of progress, then we cannot wait for things to work out. Our past suggests that our future will not improve unless we do something about it.

This article was originally published on The conversation by Penny Spikins at the University of York. Read the original article here.

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