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



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

John H. Relethford

ISBN: 978-0-470-67391-1 January 2017 Wiley-Blackwell 302 Pages


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

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