Elaine's Reviews > The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution

The Artificial Ape by Timothy    Taylor
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Jun 02, 2011

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Read in May, 2011

Taylor brings up issues few scholars of evolution consider, especially the problems that had to be overcome when hominin babies were born with big heads, making childbirth itself dangerous to mothers, as well as the twin problem of the utter helplessness of infants. This meant that mothers had to hold them constantly, hampering females greatly in their food gathering or when their bands were traveling.
Taylor considers that female concerns like baby care to have been a driving force in evolution.

However, his main thesis, hardly original, is that each advance in toolmaking led to bigger brains. Thus, he claims to refute Darwin. But this doesn't disprove Darwin, but reinforces him. Darwin said that gene mutations that enabled an organism to survive better in an environment would, by preferential mating, pass the mutation to more descendants. Well, for hominins, tools were part of the environment. A hominin with a mutation for better hand-eye coordination or the ability to envision a tool when looking at a piece of rock would be attractive to potential mates, thus passing the beneficial mutation on.

Oddly, Taylor doesn't consider language at all, even though it was a major factor in larger brains and increased intelligence. Before I had even heard of Taylor, I wrote three posts on the evolution of language. In them, I showed how each advance in language led to another until homo sapiens ruled. http://www.smarthotoldlady.blogspot.com

Although I found Taylor both arrogant and repetitious, he raises the facts that big brains meant that hominin and human babies are difficult to birth. For babies to be born with fully formed brains would be impossible, so they are so undeveloped at birth they can't even hold their heads up. Hominins, being hunter-gatherers were on the move. But what to do with babies? Mothers needed their hands free to help gather food--and to keep their balance on uneven terrain, so they probably fashioned slings from animal skins.

The most primitive peoples ever found by Westerners, people so primitive they had no clothes, have baby slings. It seems to me, also, that since females were also the food gatherers, they might have devised slings to carry berries and nuts in as well. Since such slings had to have been devised thousands of years, even a million+ years before the first stone tools, (which were cutters and scrapers, not spears or hunting weapons). Taylor credits female hominins with being the first tool makers. He shows

Scholarship is so androcentric paleoanthropologists have ignored the most basic fact about perpetuating the species. Babies have to be tended.
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