Faithful Ancestors: Researchers Debate Claims of Monogamy for Lucy and Her Ancient Kin

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, June 11, 2005 | Go to article overview

Faithful Ancestors: Researchers Debate Claims of Monogamy for Lucy and Her Ancient Kin


Bower, Bruce, Science News


A weird kind of creature strode across the eastern African landscape from around 4 million to 3 million years ago. Known today by the scientific label Australopithecus afarensis, these ancient ancestors of people may have taken the battle of the sexes in a strange direction, for primates at any rate. True, no one can re-create with certainty the court and spark that led to sexual unions between early hominids. Nothing short of a time machine full of scientifically trained paparazzi could manage that trick.

All is not lost, though. Scientists are looking to fossil remains of A. afarensis to provide, as a prehistoric tabloid would, a revealing expose of the hominid's intimate tendencies. A statistical analysis 2 years ago indicated that A. afarensis males exhibited only a moderate size advantage over females, rather than the larger difference seen in gorillas. According to Owen Lovejoy and Philip L. Reno, both of Kent (Ohio) State University, who directed that study, the size similarity implies that A. afarensis adults of both sexes favored long-term relationships, which arose as a matter of survival, not morality. Sleeping around just didn't cut it during hominids' start-up era.

That view has generated controversy, which comes as no surprise to the Kent State scientists. They themselves had unabashedly dismissed other researchers' earlier work that depicted A. afarensis males as the considerably larger sex, with the fiercest male fighters monopolizing the mating game.

However, some recent work provides evidence for A. afarensis sex differences that were considerably greater than those in modern people and that approach those in gorillas, according to J. Michael Plavcan of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and his colleagues. They report their analysis in the March Journal of Human Evolution. Large sex differences would indicate a mating style similar to that of modern gorillas.

Lovejoy and Reno, however, stand by their earlier conclusions. "It's entirely possible that much of our sexual physiology and anatomy had already evolved in australopithecines," Lovejoy says. "That set the stage for massive brain growth in our later fossil ancestors."

LUCY'S LOVE LIFE Anthropologists discovered evidence of A. afarensis, including the partial skeleton dubbed Lucy, in eastern Africa more than 30 years ago. The bones seemed to fall into two size categories. At that time, researchers butted heads over whether these bones represented two species of human ancestors that lived at the same time or one species that included males with big, bulky bodies relative to those of females.

After noting similar shapes of the larger and smaller remains, proponents of the one-species view won out. Using measurements of people's bones in relation to body weight as a reference, investigators then estimated that A. afarensis males weighed an average of 98 pounds, while their female counterparts tipped the scales at only 65 pounds. That's a much greater sex disparity in weight than is found in people today but approaches that measured among gorillas and orangutans.

Many researchers concluded that in Lucy's species, as among gorillas, the toughest males dominated the mating scene. Gorilla males tend to fight among themselves, baring dagger-like canine teeth. Winners do the lion's share of mating with available females, whom the dominant males guard from skulking suitors.

Demonstrating another lifestyle, chimps exhibit virtually no size differences between sexes, but males retain large, fanglike canines, Lovejoy notes. A female typically mates numerous times with several partners during periods of sexual receptivity, which she advertises via temporarily swollen breasts and hindquarters.

According to Lovejoy, though, behaviors of gorillas or chimps can't serve as a model for Lucy and her comrades. In 1981, he proposed that they were descendants of a new kind of primate built for what he calls social monogamy. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Faithful Ancestors: Researchers Debate Claims of Monogamy for Lucy and Her Ancient Kin
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.