University of Cambridge > > PalMeso Seminar Series > In search of mechanisms: Ecological approaches to the evolution of hominin behaviour

In search of mechanisms: Ecological approaches to the evolution of hominin behaviour

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The evolution of human behavior can be defined by the capacity to use tools to adapt and thrive in almost every environment on the planet. As a result, understanding the evolution of this unique behavior is a central focus of human origins research. The earliest evidence of this form of tool use may extend back as earlier than 2.6 million years ago when Plio-Pleistocene hominins began producing and transporting simple Oldowan cores and flakes. Albeit simple, this form of tool use may be the basis for the adaptive success of the genus Homo by allowing hominins to technologically mediate their environmental circumstances. Despite its importance to human evolution, the mechanisms that causally link behavior, and socio-ecological processes are seldom tested. The difficulty in documenting the evolutionary importance of tool use requires documenting the dynamic relationship between tool behaviors, its socio-ecological context, and how it creates measurable material patterns. However, it also requires understanding how such fine-grained interactions contribute to evolutionary patterns that form over timescales greater than any single lifespan. Here I will present integrative research designed to better understand the role of tool use in shaping the evolution of hominin behavior. In doing so, this work engages in field studies of stone tools using wild primates to elucidate the dynamics between tool use, its broader socio-ecological context, and the material patterns we study. Computational modeling is used to investigate these dynamics on more evolutionarily relevant time scales and their relevance to hominin technology. The comparison between primate material culture and the hominin archaeological record is used to generate hypotheses regarding hominin-environment interactions that can be tested through archaeological fieldwork.

This talk is part of the PalMeso Seminar Series series.

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