Tree of Origin: What Primate Behavior Can Tell Us about Human Social Evolution Hardcover – Apr 30 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Nine of the world's leading primatologists come together in this engaging volume to discuss many of the evolutionary forces that have created Homo sapiens. Edited by the eminent de Waal (The Ape and the Sushi Master, Forecasts, Feb. 19) of Emory University, all nine essays find an appropriate middle ground neither too technical nor too simplistic. Each also summarizes the current state of research into some aspect of primate behavior and what we can learn from it about the evolution of human life and culture. The acquisition, distribution and preparation of food is central to the contributions by Craig Stanford and Richard Wrangham. Stanford argues that collaborative hunting may be responsible for the development of social intelligence, while Wrangham cogently links the discovery of cooking to the creation of the human mating system. Richard Byrne's contribution discusses the evolution of human intelligence by examining patterns of tool use and food manipulation in living primates. Charles Snowdon explores the twin concepts of communication and language by looking broadly across the animal kingdom and wrestling with the question of whether or not there is such a thing as a language instinct. William McGrew does much the same for culture, effectively demonstrating that humans can no longer be considered the sole purveyors of culture. With nine separate essays, it is not surprising that a fair amount of repetition occurs, but the strengths clearly outweigh the shortcomings in this provocative book.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Here, noted primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) invited scientists who participated in a 1997 symposium on primate behavior and human social behavior to shed new light on the origins of human evolution. The authors draw on their collective years of research observing nonhuman primates to find comparisons between primates and man in such areas as ecology, sex and reproduction, social organization, culture, cognition, language, and hominization. Since the great apes are the nonhuman primates most closely related to humans genetically, they are the primary subject of the studies in this volume. Dr. Karen Strier broadens the horizon with her study of the muriqui, a South American monkey. While each primatologist competently addresses the subject of human origins, their theories vary and sometimes even clash. The individual pieces are intriguingly interesting, but the whole complex puzzle remains unsolved. The text is supplemented with research notes from each author. For academic and larger science collections. Raymond Hamel, Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Ctr. Lib., Madison
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
This collection brings to view much of that research, a compendium long overdue in de Waal's estimation. His team provides new insights into primate behaviour. They combine the research finding with speculations on how modern monkeys and apes reflect the evolutionary roots of our own relations with each other. The topics covered show the impact of environment, the patterns of sex and reproduction, social organization and cognition. The collection addresses the "process of hominization" leading from ape-like ancestors to modern humans. If all this sounds like a series of lofty scientific pedantry, fear not. All the authors present their information in open, conversational style. Although the result of a scholarly seminar, the writing throughout is clear and unpretentious. Anyone interested in their evolutionary roots or in the status of the research will find this collection rewarding.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This collection brings to view much of that research, a compendium long overdue in de Waal's estimation. His team provides new insights into primate behaviour. They combine the research finding with speculations on how modern monkeys and apes reflect the evolutionary roots of our own relations with each other. The topics covered show the impact of environment, the patterns of sex and reproduction, social organization and cognition. The collection addresses the "process of hominization" leading from ape-like ancestors to modern humans. If all this sounds like a series of lofty scientific pedantry, fear not. All the authors present their information in open, conversational style. Although the result of a scholarly seminar, the writing throughout is clear and unpretentious. Anyone interested in their evolutionary roots or in the status of the research will find this collection rewarding.
The quality of this compilation makes choice of place difficult, if not impossible. Each author presents new information and delightful analyses of the importance of the findings. Craig Stanford discusses the role of meat eating [not hunting] in building social relationships. Studied closely in the field in both ape and human societies, meat distribution and sex have a clear evolutionary role. Richard Wrangham carries this theme a step further in his analysis of the social role of food preparation - cooking. He stresses how early cooking must have emerged in hominid evolution and what its likely social impact was in our development. Richard Byrne extends this analysis to describe several forms of food acquisition and processing among various primate species.
If any issue transcends the others in the role of humanity, it is that of human cognition. To those contending only human cognitive abilities are worth studying, several authors respond that "evolution does not proceed by inspired jumps . . . but by accretion of beneficial variants" over time. In order to comprehend the evolutionary path of cognition, definitions are of primary importance. Cognition is here defined as "a species' package of information-processing capabilities" encompassing individual, social, technical and other skills. Robin Dunbar shows how these skills were likely reinforced through selectively chosen group size. He examines variations in primate group size and how these impact social behavior. Charles Snowdon addresses the mainstay of human "uniqueness" in an outline of language
development. In the final essay, William McGrew considers the question of "culture." What is it and how was it derived? McGrew refers to eight criteria, developed many years ago by Alfred Koeber, and applies them in a historical context. McGrew emphasizes that humans are not the only social species. Language enhanced abilities inherited from our predecessors.
This book addresses older ideas and breaks new ground. With a strong foundation in the intensive primate studies achieved during the past three decades, the collection calls for further studies in the field. What these will bring to light will increase our knowledge of where we fit in Nature. There are assuredly many surprises remaining to be revealed. Will you help search for answers to some of these questions?
Each chapter got my synapses firing with interesting information about how the evolution of human culture might be inferred from primate behaviors and primate and human physiology. I scribbled numerous notes that started with "I wonder if ... " or "Is it possible that ...", using the data from the authors as jumping-off points.
For example, before I read the book, I'd been wondering if it'd be possible to identify and track back as far as possible in time a collection of aphorisms that all cultures shared, such as "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach," to see what might be learned about our cultural evolution - and how closely our "culture" was actually tied to our physiological hard-wiring. Lo and behold, one of the articles in Tree of Origin appears to offer a heart-through-stomach theory for how humans came to pair off as couples.
The discussion about the size of our neocortex (neocortices?) and its relationship to the size of social groups we can "manage" expanded another line of thinking on my part about what might really be at the roots of what we call racism and of our propensity toward bloody conflict. It's possible that one core cause is our brains' maximum capacity for social complexity, rather than "just" a learned behavior that one can discard through an intellectual process.
The book reminded me of Desmond Morris' books, The Human Ape and The Human Zoo, both of which I also found fascinating.
Now that I own this book, I can re-read it and mark it up as I wish!
If I were teaching a class about humans, I would include this as a text, and I am thinking of encouraging my (older) children to read it over the summer as an adjunct to their studies in Biology.
The study of hominid evolution is remarkably speculative, even given de Waal’s direction to the authors. There is of course evidence to draw on. Fossil evidence (fossilized remains of human ancestors, tooth marks or cut marks on fossilized bones of other animals, remains of tools, etc.) can vary from conclusive to suggestive. We never know, when the evidence is scant, whether we are looking at outliers or norms.
Evidence drawn from observations of our closest relatives — great apes, especially chimpanzees and bonobos — can be incredibly suggestive. But it is not always easy to distinguish traits and behaviors that are distinctive to those species’ own evolutionary track rather than shared with our own.
The speculative nature of the study invites, as here, researchers to take up a variety of perspectives from which to offer hypotheses to answer such questions as why human-sized brains evolved, how early bipedal apes or pre-humans survived, what social groupings emerged among australopithecines and others of our ancestors, . . . Researchers look at what these hominids ate, what foods their teeth were optimized for, what their skeletal features can tell us about how fast or far they could travel, etc., all as clues to answering those critical evolutionary questions.
One very interesting perspective is that of cooking. When cooking emerged among our ancestors isn’t known, but it appears to be relatively recent, maybe 250,000 years ago (for which we have evidence of earthen ovens in use). Cooking could have changed almost everything. Diets at the time were primarily vegetarian, and, for that matter, meat still comprises a small part of apes’ diets. A diet of raw plants required large jaws, teeth, and a large gut for digestion. Post-Australopithecines, our most direct ancestors, by contrast, have remarkably small guts, teeth, and jaws.
A higher ratio of energy taken in from food relative to the energy spent to digest it could have freed energy for other uses — foraging over larger areas, or cognitive activity.
Cooking also could have introduced important social changes. Food gathering, along with mating, is a strong component of social life for apes and human ancestors. Cooking would have introduced a new element — a time delay between finding and consuming food. Raw foods would be gathered for cooking, maybe in another place and at a later time. It would need to be protected from theft from other animals, and a more explicit distribution would need to be devised at the cooking site.
You can see how this one change — cooking food — could enable or set in motion many other changes, either direct changes in behaviors or more long term opportunities for adaptive, evolutionary changes.
And cooking is just one perspective the authors take up. Other discussions address the evolution of “culture” in chimpanzees and other species besides our own, the role of hunting and meat-eating, the effect of group size on intelligence and behavior, and the evolution of brain size.
Conclusions are tentative. Conclusions may always have significant uncertainties. Researchers just can’t directly access enough evidence. We don’t, for example, have a definitive fossil example of the hypothesized common ancestor to chimpanzees and humans.
But understanding where we came from and looking in the mirror at our current close relatives are both instructive about ourselves and just plain entertaining. Having read several of de Waal’s works, especially the classic Chimpanzee Politics, has given me a new eye for watching and enjoying humans like myself.
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