Title: Human Origins – milestones in human evolution and the fossil record
Description: This course aims at exploring the fundamentals of human origins by tracking the major events during the course of human evolution, subsequent to the human – ape split, around 7 million years ago. Starting with a laboratory based general introduction to comparative human osteology and muscle function, the latest on morphological and behavioral evidence for what makes Homo sapiens and their fossil ancestors unique among primates will be presented. First, the late Miocene fossil record will be discussed in order to assess the status of our knowledge of the last common ancestor. This will be followed by a series of lectures on comparative and functional morphology, adaptation as well as paleo-biogeography of fossil human species, aiming at reconnoitering major evolutionary milestones in our evolution. With focus on the hominin fossil record, the emergence of bipedalism, hominin dietary shifts, advent of stone tool use and making, abandonment of arboreality, advent of endurance walking and running, dawn of encephalization and associated novel life histories, language and symbolism will be discussed. While taxonomic identities and phylogenetic relationships will be briefly presented, the focus will be on exploring major adaptive transitions and how that understanding helps us to unravel the ecological selective factors that shaped human evolutionary trajectory and ultimately led to the emergence of our species. This course will benefit from fresh data coming from active paleoanthropological field research conducted by Professor Alemseged in regions considered to be paleoanthropological hotspots. Students will also be introduced to osteology and to state of the art imaging and visualization methods that allow exploration of morphology and micro structures. By tracing the path followed by our ancestors over time, this course will be directly relevant to better understanding the human condition today and our place in nature.