We Are All Africans

Svante Pääbo once said, “We are all Africans, either living in Africa or in recent exile from Africa.”

It is now abundantly clear that Africa was the “cradle of humanity,” with multiple waves of hominins arising on that continent and spreading across the old world, eventually being effectively displaced by our own species, which also arose in Africa.

Given these facts, it is not surprising that the strong emphasis of anthropogeny is on the continent of Africa with wide-ranging studies including genetic, paleontological, archeological, primatological, climatological, sociocultural and more.

This CARTA symposium focuses on the contributions of scientists and scholars of anthropogeny who live and work in Africa.

Browse more programs in Anthropogeny: The Perspective from Africa.

CARTA at 10

More than 20 years ago, a small group of La Jolla academics began periodic meetings for transdisciplinary discussions on explaining the origin of humans – anthropogeny – an effort which has blossomed into an international intellectual collaborative organized by UC San Diego and the Salk Institute as the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny – CARTA.

At the formal opening of CARTA just over 10 years ago a group of CARTA leaders and advisors attempted to “define the agenda.” Since then, much additional relevant information has emerged, and an expanded group of experts now revisits the agenda by addressing the following questions on a broad array of selected topics: What do we know for certain? What do we think we know? What do we need to know? How do we proceed?

Effectively, this is a whirlwind tour of many, but not all, approaches to anthropogeny.

Browse more programs in CARTA 10th Anniversary: Revisiting the Agenda

Tool Use, Technology and the Evolution of the Human Mind

We “behaviorally modern humans” likely emerged more than 100,000 years ago in Africa, spread across that continent and eventually all over the planet, effectively replacing all closely related potentially competitive species. Among many possible explanations, was the co-evolution of the human mind with tool use and technology – ranging all the way from simple stone tools millions of years ago, to computers today.

Speakers in this series addresses this important process at all levels, from molecules to brain imaging, beginning with the potential link between early stone tool use and the parallel expansion of the human brain, to the control of fire and the invention of projectile weapons, all the way through reading and writing to current day technologies such as computers and 3D reality–perhaps with a look to the potential future of the human mind.

Browse more programs in CARTA: Impact of Tool Use and Technology on the Evolution of the Human Mind

What Happened When Modern Humans Met Neanderthals?

In short, they interbred, according to Svante Pääbo, a Swedish biologist and pioneer of paleogenetics, the study of preserved genetic material from the remains of ancient organisms, including ancient human DNA. He has served as director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, since 1997.

He explains in this lecture that Neanderthals and Denisovans have a common ancestor in Africa. About half a million years ago, these species of humans came out of Africa and evolved into what we call Neanderthals in Western Eurasia and Denisovans in Eastern Eurasia. Much later modern humans appeared in Africa and then spread, initially to the Middle East, then to Eurasia where they encountered Neanderthals and Denisovans. Eventually, those earlier species became extinct, replaced by modern humans.

Pääbo’s lab famously retrieved and sequenced ancient Neanderthal DNA and produced a high-quality genome sequence that allowed for the reconstruction of the recent evolutionary history of our species. Once the genome was sequenced and studied it became apparent that ancient and modern humans interbred. In fact, most present-day humans have some Neanderthal DNA.

Svante Pääbo’s was selected by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the UC San Diego as the recipient of the 2018 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest. He gave this fascinating lecture on that occasion.

Watch A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins with Svante Pääbo – 2018 Nierenberg Prize for Science in the Public Interest

Evolution and Creationism as Science and Myth

Myths symbolize ideas, values, history and other issues that are important to a people. They may be true or false, mundane or fantastic; their significance is their meaning, not their narrative content.

Science is a way of knowing about the natural world. Its conclusions tentatively may be true or false, but its significance is its explanatory power: one has confidence in the process of science, even though some explanations change over time.

Myth and science thus seem very different, but each has been utilized by proponents of both sides of the Christian creationism and evolution controversy. Understanding this role is essential in comprehending (much less mediating) this persistent conflict.

Eugenie C. Scott served as the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an organization that works to keep publicly (though not scientifically) controversial topics like evolution and climate change in the public schools. Her work has involved a mixture of science, communication, religion, education, law, and community activism.

Watch Evolution and Creationism as Science and Myth