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IAS Fellows’ Seminar – Human Evolutionary Narratives and Hypotheses: broadening consideration of “unique” human evolutionary developments for testing theoretical predictions in a comparative context, by Dr Adam Gordon (University of Albany)

November 20 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Image courtesy of niphon (iStock)

IAS Fellows’ Seminar by Dr Adam Gordon(Universityof Albany)


The human and chimpanzee lineages diverged from each other in Africa between nine and five million years ago.  Reconstructions of past environments indicate that the human lineage emerged at a time of increasing aridity in parts of Africa, with associated expansion of grasslands and contraction of forests.  The fossil record suggests that some of the earliest adaptations in the human lineage were associated with a shift to much greater use of terrestrial behaviors than in the inferred last common ancestor of humans and their closest living relatives, the chimpanzees and bonobos, followed much later by expansion and restructuring of the brain. 

Typically, evolutionary events in the human lineage have been treated as unique events absent elsewhere in primate evolution, resulting in several decades of scenario-building producing plausible, but ad hoc, explanations of adaptive changes in response to environmental changes.  These explanations can generate powerful narratives about human origins that get entrenched in the public consciousness and scientific community that are also fundamentally untestable in a comparative context.  These narratives promote certain research avenues and inhibit others, but often turn out to be wrong in whole or in part, and can take a long time to be rejected (e.g. Piltdown man and its impact on australopith research). 

This seminar will discuss whether there are ways to generalize descriptions of events in human evolution so that those descriptions include events in the evolutionary history of other primate lineages, allowing us to construct theoretical models that can be tested in a comparative context. 

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues or students interested in attending in person should register HERE.


November 20
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Event Category:


Cosin’s Hall, Palace Green Durham
Cosin's Hall, Palace Green
Durham, DH1 3RL United Kingdom
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