The Foundations of Human Evolution

The Foundations of Human Evolution

The Foundations of Human Evolution

The Foundations of Human Evolution

Excerpt

This year marks the centenary of the publication by Charles Darwin of the Origin of Species. It has seemed appropriate to me, therefore, that I should select for the Condon Lectures a subject to which serious attention was first drawn by Darwin's demonstration of natural selection as the underlying principle of evolution. In the Origin of Species Darwin made only a passing reference to human evolution; he did no more thin suggest, quite incidentally, that by his studies "light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history". But it is clear that at that time this central problem was very much in his mind, for in the introduction to the first edition of The Descent of Man, published in 1871, he specifically stated that he had "during many years" been collecting notes on the subject. In this later book Darwin was not only concerned to demonstrate the general principle that man, like other mammals, is the product of an evolutionary process, he was interested to learn how, far the details of human phylogeny might be inferred from a consideration of the anatomical and embryological data then available to him. For example, he suggested that man probably "diverged from the Catarrhine or Old World division of the Simiadae, after these had diverged from the New World division", and that "it is probable that the Simiabae were originally developed from the progenitors of the existing Lemuridae, and these in turn from forms very low in the mammalian series". Darwin also ventured to speculate oil certain anatomical features which might be expected to have characterized the immediate and the more distant progenitors of Homo, as may be seen from the following quotation (p. 248 of the second edition of The Descent of Man reprinted in 1909) "The early progenitors of man must have been once covered with hair, both sexes having beards; their ears were probably pointed, and capable of movement; and their bodies were provided with a tail, having the proper muscles. Their limbs and bodies were also acted on by many muscles which now only occasionally reappear, but are normally present in the Quadrumana. At this or some cirlier period . . .

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