Why are humans unique? It’s the small things that count


Can there be any more important a question than, ‘How did we get here?’

Of course, I don’t mean those books we all gawked at as tweens desperate to understand our transforming pubescent bodies.

I mean, ‘How did we get here, as a species?’ ‘How did we come to be so different to all other life?’

In the way that we look: with our large, balloon like brains and skulls, hairless bodies, tiny teeth, protruding chins, puny muscles, and bobbling about on two feet.

Also in the ways that we behave: with our remarkably complex and conscious brains, articulate speech and language, symbolic, creative, minds, and extraordinary imagination.

And how did we come to occupy virtually every nook and cranny the planet has to offer, even travelling to places beyond Earth?

The fossil, genetic and archaeological records provide the only hard evidence we have about our evolutionary past.

Yet, even if we cast our attention back to the Palaeolithic (or Stone Age) we really get no sense at all that we as a species would be destined to be the apes that would eventually shape the planet itself, on a global scale.

But each year, with the rapid pace of scientific discovery about our evolutionary past, our ‘biological patch’ is getting smaller and smaller; and, 2015 has been a truly remarkable year in this sense.

It seems like a good time to pause and take stock: How different are we? And, what can the records of our evolutionary history tell us about the journey to human uniqueness?


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