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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  January 2017  /  The cradle of Humanity

The cradle of Humanity

Mark Maslin traces the ‘ultrasocial’ human brain to the changing landscape of Africa

The cradle of Humanity

Humans are rather weak when compared with many other animals. They are not particularly fast and have no natural weapons. Yet the number of homo sapiens is currently nearly 7.5 billion, and set to rise to nearly 10 billion by the middle of this century.

As a result we influence almost every part of the Earth system and are changing the global environmental and evolutionary trajectory.

Fundamental to our success is our intelligence, not only individually but more importantly collectively.  But why did evolution favour the brainy ape? Given the calorific cost of running our large brains, not to mention the difficulties posed for childbirth, this bizarre adaptation must have given our ancestors a considerable advantage.

Astronomy, geology, climate, and landscape all had a part to play in making East Africa the cradle of humanity and launching humans into their domination of the planet.

A new book by Professor Mark Maslin (UCL Geography), THE CRADLE OF HUMANITY: How the changing landscape of Africa made us so smart, brings together the latest insights from hominin fossils. It combines them with evidence of the changing landscape of the East African Rift Valley to show how all these factors led to selection pressures favouring our ultrasocial brains.

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The Cradle of Humanity


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