The theory of modern evolution has to answer a lot of questions. Questions about the origin of man have not only scientific value, since ideas about the natural derivation of man from the monkey-like species as the result of evolution existed since antiquity. This essay deals with two topics: The evolution of the hominid and the culture as a factor in the human evolution.
Since long time scientists considered that the evolution of man was more or less linear: one form evolved to another, and each new form was more progressive and closer to the contemporary person than the previous one. It is now clear that everything was much more complex. Evolutionary tree of hominid proved to be much branched. The time intervals of existence of many forms strongly overlap. Sometimes several different types of hominid, which have been located on different levels of closeness to human, coexisted in one and the same biotope (for example, Homo ergaster and Paranthropus boisei).
The situation, when family hominid is represented by one and only form (as it is now) – is untypical in general. For example, even in comparatively recent past – 50 thousand years ago – there were at least a total of 4 forms of the hominid on the Earth: Homo sapiens, Homo neandertalensis, Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis.
The evolutionary lines, which lead to human and chimpanzees, were divided (according to molecular data) approximately 5.5 – 6.5 m. years ago (or possibly, somewhat earlier – up to 8 m. years). The human line, or the Hominidae family, is characterized by the most important attribute – bipedalism (walking on two feet). It is understandable that the transfer to the two-legged walking was connected with substantial changes in the way of life. Therefore the appearance of the new family of Hominidae – was simultaneously a shaping of new adaptive zone.
The Culture as a Factor
It is widely acknowledged that the evolution of man is composed of two processes – organic evolution and cultural evolution. The significant development of anthropology, which occurred in the recent decades led to the appearance of a more contemporary point of view. According to this point of view, in the epoch of cultural evolution natural selection continued to act and organic evolution did not cease.
It is necessary to assume that the cultural evolution is accomplished via the gradual accumulation of cultural heritage. The acquisition of useful knowledge occurs at first, then this knowledge is included into the overall mass of knowledge of this group, after which it is transferred to the subsequent generations by teaching. Each next generation adds to this reserve of knowledge what it already succeeded in learning by themselves, and such new knowledge is transferred further in the same way. But consequently, cultural heritage bears cumulative nature.
The cultural developments of Homo erectus for example, basically started a new period of human evolution–one in which the selective force was changed by cultural inventions. The culture itself might not have selective force, but it rather affected the human evolution by helping overcoming environmental obstacles in non biological way. As an example of the culture directly affecting the evolution, the clash between groups which had different knowledge in making tools and weapons might have led to the disappearance of one group and the dominance of the other which was a typical selectivity in evolution. The culture as a factor could be related to social elements, thus cultural evolution is frequently the product of competition between opposing to each other with social groups with different cultures.
Lewis, B., Jurmain, R., & Kilgore , L. (2006). Understanding Physical Anthropology and Archaeology. Wadsworth Publishing.