Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Rise of “Homo egocentricis”

Although it was literally a dark and stormy night, such weather conditions were but a novelty to the speaker – a scientist whom had spent the majority of his life scanning barren rocks and desiccated landscapes for fragments of fossil bone beneath the unrelenting and scorching sun of an East African desert. Yet, I can’t help but think that some level of instinctual fear naggingly tickled at his stomach as he approached the waiting crowd…

There was little doubt that villains - the arch enemies of reason and deniers of fact– concealed themselves among the many upstanding community members and university staff in attendance. This was, after all, Tallahassee, Florida. A city of the Southeastern Unite States, geographically located near the eastern extent of the so called “Bible belt.”

How would they react to being told that biological evolution is fact? Moreover, how would they respond to learning that Homo sapiens, despite an egocentric view of the world, have shared a common ancestry with other primates, and in fact, a common lineage with all life on Earth?

Actually, they responded remarkably well, much to the credit of Dr. Don Johanson.

By all accounts, the talk on Human Origins was a success. Dr. Johanson spoke with the confidence and familiarity that has made him a highly sought, world renowned lecturer and scientist.

He began the talk by discussing the development of his personal interest in anthropology as a child and quickly moved through a summary of the major fossil discoveries made during his lifetime - a true story of adventure and discovery. The lecture was given at an IMAX theater and included some fantastic images of hominid fossils and African landscapes; the presentation can be viewed in its entirety by going to the FSU Origins webpage HERE and clicking on the red-highlighted “Webcast” text to the right of Dr. Johanson’s photograph.

As a further suggestion, I’d recommend a quick look at a recent article by Kaye E. Reed of the Institute of Human Origins (which Don Johanson runs in Arizona) discussing the paleoecology of the Hadar hominin site in Ethiopia. The article discusses speciation and environmental transitions associated with Australopithecus afarensis.

Reed, K. (2008). Paleoecological patterns at the Hadar hominin site, Afar Regional State, Ethiopia Journal of Human Evolution, 54 (6), 743-768 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.08.013

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