BRAINDANCE: What New Discoveries Reveal About Human Origins and Brain Evolution by Dean Falk

BRAINDANCE: What New Discoveries Reveal About Human Origins and Brain Evolution

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Add yet another voice to the chorus of contention surrounding human origins. Falk (Anthropology/SUNY at Albany), describes how she unwittingly took on some of the grand old men in the field in one of her earliest papers. There, she declared that Raymond Dart had misidentified a portion of the skull of the Tuang baby, the famous South African fossil that led to the naming of this hominid line as australopithecine. Dart's mistake, Falk said, led him to believe that the fossil was more human than apelike--a claim by Falk that resulted in a series of papers and counterpapers pitting her against another of the Old Guard, Columbia's Ralph Holloway. Falk's point is that the australopithecines generally had more apelike brains in spite of evidence that they walked upright. Bipedalism predates the explosive brain expansion that defines the earliest Homo lines. So what caused the three-fold increase in brain size? Falk's explanation involves climate. Bipedalism, she says, allowed our ancestors to wander farther afield in savannahlike regions where they were subjected to solar heating as well as gravity. But a little too much heat fries the brain. What Falk and colleagues found is that one hominid line developed a series of holes in the skull through which venous blood, cooled in its return from skin, returned to cool the brain--a radiator mechanism absent in other hominid lines and apes. The complicated cooling system and growing brain size evolved together, with the savannah conditions favoring the evolution of a more intelligent, adaptable species--with a brain that has similar features to the ape but does more ingenious integration--choreographing the ""braindance."" In saying that--and adding a lot of interesting new material on right-brain/left-brain and male/female differences--Falk has taken on Donald Johanson, etc., knocked Lucy from her pedestal, and scolded her colleagues for their trend toward ""splitomania."" Her reasoning is intriguing, her courage admirable. Stay tuned.

Pub Date: Feb. 14th, 1992
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Henry Holt