Unique in bringing an interdisciplinary approach to the Out of Africa
This is the first volume to address directly the question of the speciation
of modern Homo sapiens. The subject raises profound questions about the
nature of the species, our defining characteristic (it is suggested it is
language), and the brain changes and their genetic basis that make us
distinct. The British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences have
brought together experts from palaeontology, archaeology, linguistics,
psychology, genetics and evolutionary theory to present evidence and
theories at the cutting edge of our understanding of these issues.
Palaeontological and genetic work suggests that the transition from a
precursor hominid species to modern man took place between 100,000 and
150,000 years ago. Some contributors discuss what is most characteristic of
the species, focussing on language and its possible basis in brain
lateralization. This work is placed in the context of speciation theory,
which has remained a subject of considerable debate since the evolutionary
synthesis of Mendelian genetics and Darwinian theory. The timing of
specific transitions in hominid evolution is discussed, as also is the
question of the neural basis of language. Other contributors address the
possible genetic nature of the transition, with reference to changes on the
X and Y chromosomes that may account for sex differences in lateralization
and verbal ability. These differences are discussed in terms of the theory
of sexual selection, and with reference to the mechanisms of speciation.
These essays will be vital reading for anyone interested in the nature and
origins of the species, and specifically human abilities.