Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Slippery descent: Untangling the complexity of our evolutionary history

By Andi Horvath

Renowned paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood explains how continuing research into fossil and other evidence of our evolutionary history produces insights but also reveals how much we have yet to learn. How good, for example, are we at telling our recent ancestors and close relatives from those of the apes? How can we know how many species preceded our own? And can we tell which of those species are our ancestors, and which are non-ancestral close relatives?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

ANDI HORVATH

Hi. I'm Dr Andi Horvath. Thanks for joining us. Today we get up close to our ancestral past, and the ongoing quest to trace the lineage of the modern human, Homo sapiens, and other close relatives. The evolutionary tree has sprouted countless branches and twigs from the animals that first started to walk upright to the many branches that resemble humans, like Neanderthals. For periods of history these species thrived, but some branches became extinct, adding to the complexity of our origins. Paleoanthropologists, with the help of fossils and molecular evidence and recent developments in genomic techniques, know a lot more than they did a generation ago, but a unified theory of the precise origins of Genus Homo remains elusive and a subject of ongoing debate.

So what are the clues to the history and geography of human origins and how do we determine if we're related to beings in the past that share some of our humanlike characteristics? To guide us up into the canopy of the Tree of Life we're joined by veteran paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood, who is the University Professor of Human Origins and the Director of the Center of Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology at George...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.