Bipedalism long preceded tool use and bigger brains in human evolution, notes primate-watcher Stanford (Anthropology/Univ. of Southern California), and it was all for the love of meat.
Taking several giant steps backward in time from his earlier work, The Hunting Apes (1999), the author addresses what happened in African ecology six million years ago to give rise to early bipeds, the shufflers and short-distance walkers who eventually evolved into the modern marathon walkers who peopled the globe. Forget about opposable thumbs: primates have them. Forget about standing up to look for predators lurking in the high grass of the savannahs: Africa did not transform overnight from all forest to all savannahs; it was a patchwork of woods, forests, and grasslands abundant with multiple primate species and hominids living side by side. Forget about hands being freed to make tools or carry food or babies: that’s all part of the “linear, simplistic stories” in which a single species of hominid “progresses” to Homo sapiens. No, the advantages that favored early modifications of anatomy and respiration for efficient walking, states Stanford, were that they enabled our ancestors to forage more widely for small game and to eventually move onto grasslands where they could find carcasses of big herd animals to divide and share. Three million years ago, tools came into play; a million years later, the brain mushroomed in size. For all Stanford’s skillful demolishing of many current human-origin theories, especially those that propose a sole reason or a one-step process, his meat-eating incentive will surely be criticized as just another single-cause theory. This in spite of Stanford’s disclaimers to the contrary and his statement that “we have no reason to assume that the cause of the first steps was directly related to the cause of later improvements.”
An engaging resume of the pros and cons in the raging controversies that characterize anthropology/paleontology today, as well as a pleasing summary of the author’s own arguments.