Human evolution


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Laugharne, Wales, 1959. Photo by Philip Jones Griffiths/Magnum

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Hand to mouth

If language began with gestures around a campfire and secret signals on hunts, why did speech come to dominate communication?

Kensy Cooperrider

A hunting scene discovered painted in a cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia, is thought to be 44,000 years old. Photo courtesy Ratno Sardi/Griffith University

Essay/
Human evolution
Ancient yet cosmopolitan

Art, adornment and sophisticated hunting technologies flourished not only in prehistoric Europe but across the globe

Gaia Vince

Les Baigneuses (1912), by Albert Gleizes. Courtesy Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris/Wikipedia

Essay/
Human evolution
Choose your own birth

Every human is both an animal with a deep evolutionary history and an individual who must bring their existence into being

Ada Jaarsma

Dee, JoJo, Frankie and Lisa after school on Prince Street, Little Italy, New York City, in 1976. Photo from Susan Meiselas’s series Prince Street Girls/Magnum

Essay/
Love and friendship
The biology of love

Humans teeter on a knife’s edge. The same deep chemistry that fosters bonding can, in a heartbeat, pivot to fear and hate

Ruth Feldman

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians pray on the last day of ‘Abiy Tsom’, fifty-five days of fasting ahead of Easter, at Medhane Alem Cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 7 April 2018. Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Essay/
Rituals and celebrations
Divine transports

Whether via music, dance or prayer, the trance state was key to human evolution, forging society around the transcendent

Mark Vernon

Turkana warriors react after finding out that Nyangatom warriors are around their settlement in Ilemi Triangle, Kenya, on 17 July 2019. Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Essay/
Human evolution
Suspicion makes us human

Conspiracy theories have always been with us, powered by an evolutionary drive to survive. How’s that working for us now?

Jan-Willem van Prooijen

Detail from a US poster for the 1948 film production of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, directed by David Lean. Photo by LMPC/Getty

Essay/
Stories and literature
Orphans and their quests

The sympathetic plot is a type of story, rich in tropes, that is universal to human cultures. With one big twist…

Manvir Singh

At the Remembrance Day ceremony at Old City Hall in Toronto, 11 November 2014. Photo by Mark Blinch/Reuters

Essay/
Human evolution
United by feelings

Universal emotions are the deep engine of human consciousness and the basis of our profound affinity with other animals

Stephen T Asma & Rami Gabriel

The Leonid Meteor Storm, as seen over North America on the night of 12-13 November 1833. Courtesy Wikimedia

Essay/
The future
The end of us

Only since the Enlightenment have we been able to imagine humans going extinct. Is it a sign of our maturity as a species?

Thomas Moynihan

Children at the Appleby Horse Fair in Cumbria, England, in 1972. Photo by Bruce Dale/National Geographic/Getty

Essay/
Family life
Against ‘natural’ parenting

We’re opportunistic, inventive and flexible animals, and there is no ‘natural’ or ‘right’ way to bring up our children

Olga Mecking

‘My scrupulosity has helped me avoid some serious missteps, from factual errors to half-baked arguments.’ (Image posed by a model). Photo by Georgijevic/Getty

Essay/
Mental health
The red thread of obsession

Evolved human capacities for vigilance and worry are both exacerbated and rewarded by the intense pressure of modern life

Elizabeth Svoboda

Children follow their teacher during a snowfall in Harlem, New York, in 2018. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

Essay/
Cognition and intelligence
Cognitive gadgets

Our thinking devices – imitation, mind-reading, language and others – are neither hard-wired nor designed by genetic evolution

Cecilia Heyes

An exhibit depicts the life of a Neanderthal family in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern town of Krapina, Croatia. 25 February 2010. Photo by Nikola Solic/Reuters

Essay/
Human evolution
The Neanderthal renaissance

Handprints on a cave wall, crumbs from a meal: the new science of Neanderthals radically recasts the meaning of humanity

Rebecca Wragg Sykes

A Jeep full of the Daughters of Charity in St Louis, Missouri in 1964. Photo by Bert Glinn/Magnum

Essay/
Anthropology
Did laughter make the mind?

A psychological relief valve and a guard against despotism, laughter is a uniquely human – and collective – activity

Chris Knight

At the Caspian Sea, Iran, in 2017. Photo by Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos

Essay/
Family life
The marvel of the human dad

Among our close animal relatives, only humans have involved and empathic fathers. Why did evolution favour the devoted dad?

Anna Machin

The Alameda Spite House, California (1908). Disgruntled carpenter Charles Froling constructed the house on the thin strip of land that remained after the city, helped by his neighbour, requisitioned the plot for road building. Photo by Elf/Wikimedia

Idea/
Human evolution
Punishment isn’t about the common good: it’s about spite

Patrick Forber & Rory Smead

Artwork from the Look and Learn series of children’s books c1970. Photo © Look and Learn

Essay/
Human evolution
The hunt for human nature

We still live in the long shadow of Man-the-Hunter: a midcentury theory of human origins soaked in strife and violence

Erika Lorraine Milam

A Mongolian shaman or böö sits with his child before a fire ritual during the summer solstice in June 2018 outside Ulaanbaatar. Banned under communist rule, shamanism has seen a resurgence in Mongolia since 1992, when the ancient practice became protected by the country’s Constitution. Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty

Essay/
Social psychology
Masters of reality

The trances and healing powers of shamans are so widespread that they can be counted a human universal. Why did they evolve?

Thomas T Hills