Part 14: Humans Are (Blank)-ogamous: Paleo Hookups & Archaic Lovers

The introduction to this series can be found here.

Summary: Genetic evidence shows that various Pleistocene populations interbred, including humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans. Is it possible to know whether these could have occurred in pair-bonded relationships? What were the evolutionary origins of pair-bonds in hominins, or are single explanations too simple? 



Paleoanthropologist John Hawks created this great infographic that summarizes what we know about ancient human interbreeding, based on recent genetic discoveries (this link to his site has a larger version). The graphic shows that several archaic populations mated with each other, although likely at low rates, including modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans. There are also a couple of mystery populations in the mix, whose existence is known solely based on the DNA they left behind. Very cool stuff.

Who Interbred with Whom in the Pleistocene. (Figure by John Hawks).

Who Interbred with Whom in the Pleistocene. (Figure by John Hawks).

Continue reading

Part 10: Humans are (Blank)-ogamous: Wondrously Complex Paleo-Sex

This is the tenth(!) part on the evolution of human mating behavior, comparing evidence for promiscuity and pair-bonding in our species. Please see the Introduction here.



In her new book “Paleofantasy,” Marlene Zuk (2013) takes on the notion that our diet, exercise, and mating Zuk Paleofantasypatterns are out of synch with our evolutionary biology. Some have argued that we have modified our environments too quickly for our own good, leading to the position that we would be better off if we could return to the days of old, before the modern world messed things up. There is probably some truth to this argument (an example I use in classes is that in only a few seconds, inserting $1.00 into a vending machine could return you over 400 empty calories bereft of other nutrients, a scenario our ancestors never encountered). But Zuk counters that the idea that we are stuck with hunter-gatherer bodies and minds in a modern world is overly simplistic.

Zuk notes that attempts to find health and happiness by returning to our idyllic, ancestral past (i.e., paleofantasies) face a few challenges. Among these are:

1. The methodological difficulties in determining exactly how our ancestors lived.
2. The variation among human groups across time and geography.
3. The idea that we were ever fully (perfectly?) adapted to our environment.
4. The fact that evolution does not stop; we are not ‘stuck’ evolutionarily in time.


 In sum, she writes:

Continue reading

Anthropology: Reflections on the Field

Several great pieces on the nature of anthropology appeared this weekend on the  Anthropologies Project website, reflecting on the purpose of anthropology, its strengths and weaknesses, and its future. I recommend the whole series of essays, but two in particular caught my eye early, in part because they are written by biological/biocultural anthropologists with whom I’ve had at least some interaction in the past.

Continue reading