Paleoanthropologist Dr. John Hawks – BGM Interview

Dr. John Hawks is a Distinguished Achievement Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, associate chair, and undergraduate advisor. He earned his Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 1999. His interests include Biological anthropology, Paleoanthropology, and Anthropological genomics.

John took us through the evolution of humans from a cultural and genetic viewpoint, starting about 3 milion years ago. In recent years there’s been an explosion in the fossil history of our ancestors that has greatly improved our understanding of Homo Sapiens. We spent some time covering the newest thinking about Neanderthals, including how Homo Sapiens interacted with them starting 100,000 years ago in Europe — and the mysterious disappearance of the Neanderthals. John provides fascinating details of our human evolution. Don’t miss this one!

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One thought on “Paleoanthropologist Dr. John Hawks – BGM Interview

  • Thanks for this John. This is a subject I keep up with. Well, as best as any layman could, at least. Human evolution is a fascinating subject especially ever since evidence from recent fossil finds and ancient DNA sequencing started to come in.

    What tends to get lost when people talk about evolution is that pretty much everything in evolution –every mutation, every new genetic trait, every physiological evolutionary adaptation arose by accident.

    There is no purposefulness in evolution, it only appears so on hindsight. Even distinguished experts in the field use linguistic shortcuts like, say, “our ancestors evolved upright bipedalism to better scan the open landscape and increase the chances of their survival”, but this implied teleology is inaccurate. And the experts know that it’s inaccurate but the teleological statement is less of a mouthful than “the humans who happened to evolve upright bipedalism were better able to scan open landscapes and this increased their chances of survival in that type of landscape”. We laymen tend to forget that when we read or talk about evolution, the apparent teleology implied in the language is a result of linguistic economy, and I believe this leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution.

    An interesting tidbit I might add is that bipedal hominid footprints discovered in Crete have been dated to 5.6 million years ago. Understandably this is a little controversial since it throws a spanner into the prevailing evolutionary narrative as Prof Hawks outlined. What were hominids doing in Crete, that is, outside Africa, just a couple of million years after the human and chimp/bonobo lineages parted? But that is what makes science endlessly fascinating, right?

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