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50 Great Myths of Human Evolution: Understanding Misconceptions about Our Origins

ISBN: 978-0-470-67391-1
304 pages
January 2017, Wiley-Blackwell
50 Great Myths of Human Evolution: Understanding Misconceptions about Our Origins (0470673915) cover image


50 Great Myths of Human Evolution uses common misconceptions to explore basic theory and research in human evolution and strengthen critical thinking skills for lay readers and students.

  • Examines intriguing—yet widely misunderstood—topics, from general ideas about evolution and human origins to the evolution of modern humans and recent trends in the field
  • Describes what fossils, archaeology, and genetics can tell us about human origins
  • Demonstrates the ways in which science adapts and changes over time to incorporate new evidence and better explanations
  • Includes myths such as “Humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs;” “Lucy was so small because she was a child;” “Our ancestors have always made fire;” and “There is a strong relationship between brain size and intelligence”
  • Comprised of stand-alone essays that are perfect for casual reading, as well as footnotes and references that allow readers to delve more deeply into topics
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Table of Contents

Preface x

Introduction: Myths and Misconceptions 1

1 Ideas about Evolution 7

#1 Evolution is a theory, not a fact 7

#2 Evolution is completely random 12

#3 All evolutionary changes are adaptive 16

#4 In evolution, bigger is always better 22

#5 Natural selection always works 26

#6 Some species are more evolved than are others 29

#7 Humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs 33

2 Human Origins 39

#8 If apes evolved into humans, then apes should not exist today 39

#9 “Ramapithecus” was a human ancestor 44

#10 Humans and African apes split from each other over 15 million years ago 51

#11 Gigantopithecus was the ancestor of “Bigfoot” (assuming Bigfoot exists) 56

#12 Human traits all evolved at the same time 60

#13 Large brains evolved very early in human evolution 66

#14 The common ancestor of African apes and humans walked like a chimpanzee 72

#15 Bipedalism first evolved on the African grasslands 76

#16 Lucy was so small because she was a child 80

#17 Australopithecus was a killer ape 85

#18 Human evolution can be described as a “ladder” 90

#19 All hominin species have probably been discovered 97

#20 There are no transitional fossils in human evolution 101

3 Evolution of the Genus Homo 109

#21 Only one species of Homo lived 2 million years ago 109

#22 Early Homo had modern human brain size 115

#23 Only humans are toolmakers and have culture 120

#24 We can identify species by the stone tools they made 125

#25 Homo habilis definitely made shelter 132

#26 Our ancestors have always made fire 135

#27 Early humans got all of their meat from hunting 139

#28 Species with larger brow ridges are more ape ]like 143

#29 Neandertals walked bent over and were dumb brutes 148

#30 Neandertals definitely could not speak 153

#31 Modern humans appeared first in Eurasia 158

#32 “Mitochondrial Eve” is our only common female ancestor 163

#33 Neandertals did not interbreed with modern humans 169

#34 We do not need fossils any more to learn about human evolution 175

#35 All recent human species had large brains 178

4 Recent and Future Human Evolution 187

#36 Each of us has billions of distinct ancestors 187

#37 The first Americans came from Europe or the Middle East 192

#38 The first Polynesians came from South America 198

#39 The origin of agriculture led to an improvement in health 203

#40 Civilization has been influenced by extraterrestrials 206

#41 The recent increase in life expectancy was due initially to antibiotics 211

#42 There are three distinct shades of human skin color 217

#43 Biological race is useful for understanding human variation 223

#44 All African Americans have the same genetic history 227

#45 Genetic ancestry is the same thing as cultural identity 231

#46 Sickle cell Anemia is a “black disease” 234

#47 There is a strong genetic relationship between brain size and intelligence test scores 239

#48 Humans are no longer evolving 243

#49 Blond hair will eventually disappear 246

#50 We can predict future human evolution 249

References 258

Index 273

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Author Information

John H. Relethford is Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, USA, where he has taught since 1981. He is a biological anthropologist specializing in human population genetics, human variation, and the evolution of modern humans. He is a former President and Vice-President of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, former Vice President and President of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics, and a Fellow and Former Chair of Section H (Anthropology) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has over 170 publications, including several books, over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles, and over 25 book chapters. Most recently, he is the author of The Human Species: An Introduction to Biological Anthropology (9th edition, 2013), Human Population Genetics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), and co-author of Human Biological Variation (2nd edition, 2011).

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"As that rare scholar who is well-versed not just in paleoanthropology, living human biological variation, or genetics/genomics, but in all three, John Relethford gives us a concise, authoritative, and highly readable account of the most common misperceptions or 'myths' concerning human evolution. Whether the reader wants to know why there are still apes if apes evolved into humans, whether Neanderthals could speak, if extraterrestrials influence human civilization or almost anything else connected with human biological history, the answer is in this book!" - Fred H. SmithIllinois State University

"John Relethford's 50 Great Myths of Human Evolution is a novel, ingenious, and effective format for presenting what we know and, in some cases, what we do not know about human evolution. The authoritative, well-judged, and carefully-crafted essays guide the reader through this controversial field in a way that helps readers not only appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence, but it will also help them understand how science is done." - Bernard WoodGeorge Washington University

"Relethford has identified a series of myths surrounding the study of human evolution, capturing many of the incorrect perceptions, misunderstandings, and bizarre interpretations of this fascinating field. This book will be a must-read for all students of human evolution and will be a go-to source for referring students and professionals alike to the history of the field. Relethford is especially successful in explaining science as a process and its ability to self-correct as new findings are made and old discoveries are reinterpreted." - Clark Spencer LarsenThe Ohio State University Columbus
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