African Genesis: an evolving paradigm

This source preferred by Sally Reynolds

Authors: Reynolds, S.C.

Editors: Reynolds, S.C. and Gallagher, A.

Pages: 1-18

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Place of Publication: Cambridge

The Late Miocene and Early Pliocene hominin fossil record confirms Africa as the birthplace of humanity. Raymond Dart ’s announcement of the first species of ‘ape-man’ in the journal Nature (Dart, 1925 ) forever changed our perceptions of Africa’s place in the ‘human story’ and firmly established the field of African palaeoanthropology. We palaeoanthropologists, past, present and future, owe a significant debt to Dart’s discovery and his recognition of its importance. But Dart’s work was just the beginning of a long and proud legacy of excavation and research in southern Africa, and new discoveries continue to confirm the importance of this region to our understanding of human evolution. The African Genesis symposium, held at the University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, Johannesburg, South Africa between 8 and 14 January 2006, celebrated the 80th anniversary of Dart’s publication of the Taung child and the 80th birthday of a remarkable man, Professor Phillip V. Tobias . Tobias continued the tradition established by his mentor Dart, and his mentor before him: a long line of mentors and students stretching back more than 500 years (Ungar and Tobias, Chapter 2 ). Tobias, in turn, continues to collaborate with colleagues and former students on a variety of new perspectives on the fossil hominin material (e.g. Lockwood and Tobias, 2002 ; Holloway et al. , 2004 ; Curnoe and Tobias, 2006 ; Moggi-Cecci et al. , 2006 ). His commitment to education and scientific rigour established a strong foundation for our scholarly community.

Phillip Tobias’s contributions encompass the systematic study of all aspects of human evolution and he continues to inspire students and colleagues worldwide.

In his role of palaeoanthropologist, he described new fossil discoveries (Leakey et al. , 1964 ; Hughes and Tobias, 1977 ), headed the excavation programme at Sterkfontein for many years and studied deposits of Sterkfontein, such as the Silberberg Grotto in which Ron Clarke would later discover a near -complete Australopithecus skeleton (Tobias, 1979 ; Clarke and Tobias, 1995 ). Tobias’s seminal publications include two monographs on the comparative morphology and evolutionary significance of two hominin taxa, Australopithecus boisei and the enigmatic Homo habilis from Bed 1 Olduvai Gorge , Tanzania (Tobias, 1967 , 1991 ).

The African Genesis conference and this subsequent volume outline the major developments since Dart’s announcement and description of Taung and gauge the consensus between various subdisciplines concerning the broader issues of hominin emergence in our ancestral homeland. This chapter reviews and summarises the main topics linking the contributions in this volume. These are loosely grouped into four parts: (I) the search for origins, whether these be in the earliest African Miocene deposits, in new excavations or in the new interpretation of previously studied hominin assemblages ( Chapters 3 – 7 ); (II) hominin cranial, postcranial and dental morphology ( Chapters 8 – 16 ); (III) the processes of modern human origins and dispersals ( Chapters 17 – 21 ) and (IV) faunal context of hominin discoveries and the inferences about the evolution of human behaviour through time ( Chapters 22 – 27 ). At the end of the volume overview, I discuss the other signficant discoveries of the last two decades that have helped to change our perspectives of our science and our origins.

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