Thursday, August 14, 2008

Human Evolution Olympics

Foxnews has a little contest about which fossil hominid (or hominin if you are a cladist) would win in olympic competition. Certain hominids did some things very well:

For instance, before 2 million years ago, the earliest human ancestors such as Australopithecus afarensis (represented in part by the famed "Lucy" fossil) had just come down from the trees, in an evolutionary sense.

Their bodies still reflected chimp features, such as longer arms and a stronger upper body built for fighting and swinging through the trees.

"A big male chimp weighs about 50 kilos [110 pounds], yet could easily rip the arm off someone," Lieberman noted. "You would never want to arm-wrestle a chimpanzee."

But as far as endurance and running were concerned, it is the later hominids that have it:

The ability to run for long distances changed human athleticism — as well as history — and came around the 2-million-year mark, allowing human ancestors such as Homo erectus to hunt seriously for the first time.

Early hunters only had sharpened wooden sticks and clubs, which meant that success in catching and killing prey relied on the difference between human marathon-running and animal sprinting.

"Most human sports that we value the most (with exception of power sports) involve this incredible ability to run or do aerobic capacity," Lieberman said. "That's really rare. Very few animals adapted for endurance."

Read the whole thing, including the potshot at Neandertals by Dan Lieberman, who has never cared much for them.

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