Heather Murray

Reflection Essay

Anthropology 1020

12/14/15

 

Of all the content covered in my Physical Anthropology class, the one thing that has continued to perplex me throughout the semester is how nature was able to create so many beautifully constructed creatures. From one-cell organisms to the jaw-droppingly complex beings that we humans are, I will never understand how all of that was able to happen by chance through evolution. Although I will never fully understand it, I have gained insight into the subject during the course of the semester. One such moment of clarity being when I learned how natural selection truly works. It finally made sense how one species can change over time and why it happens. I also learned to accept that fact that perhaps nature had help.

For so long science and religion have been two opposing forces, but this need not be so. What I have come to realize during the course of my studies this semester is that instead of being at odds, religion and evolution complement each other. Perhaps I needn’t side with one or the other, and instead have a foot on both sides of the line that has been drawn for so many centuries. Science only explains what God created, not disproves it. I think, more than anything else, this is the most significant concept I’ve gleaned an understanding of during the course of this class.

Biological Anthropologists view the theory of evolution as solid science. They are able to draw lines from A to B, B to C, and so on until they arrive at the final destination, Z. These lines are small. They trace the history of the physical world and look at each individual being, beginning with their life and ending with their deaths. They expose similarities and differences between each of these, and they find an explanation when a piece of the puzzle doesn’t seem to fit.

Natural selection and Mendelian genetics are the basis for the theory of evolution. Natural selection explains that any species will evolve for one or both of two reasons: survival or sex. Surviving and passing on your genes are primal instincts that are shared by every species. Any species will evolve over time if it benefits one or both of these two driving forces. For example, our ancient ancestors, the Pre-Australopiths, started out living in the trees and coming down occasionally. They had very small brains, were only partially bipedal, had very long arms, had a large facial projection and large brow ridges. Over the course of about 2.5 million years they were able to evolve into what we know as the Australopiths. They didn’t jump from A to Z, they took baby steps. Natural selection favored bipedalism, thus they began to leave the trees, walk on two legs, their brains got bigger and their arms got shorter. This was all because these things helped them to survive or have more sex and pass on their genes. The Australopiths didn’t stop there; they continued to evolve.   Over the course of 3.5 million years they grew an average of a foot or so, their brains continue to increase in size due to intelligence aiding in survival. Their arms continue to get shorter and their facial projection lessened, along with shrinking canines.

After the Austrolapiths we see the appearance of the Genus Homo, Homo Habiils, Homo Erects, and the Pre-Modern Homo sapiens: Heidelbergensus, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Florensiensis. These human ancestors continued to evolve over 2.5 million years, making changes such as increasing in height by about 2 more feet, all but losing all facial projection, increasing brain size dramatically, changing their dentition from a U shape to a rainbow shape, along with shrinking the size of their teeth. They began to use tools in the time of Homo Habilis and eventually made them an essential part of everyday life by the time Modern Homo sapiens enter the scene. They began to build culture and showed signs of higher thinking as demonstrated by the burial of their dead, in the case of the Neanderthals.

As you can see they didn’t make a giant leap from monkey to human. They took small steps. Over time they evolved from our ancient, more primitive ancestors to what we are today. We don’t know exactly what species was our predecessor, but with time and a continued search for the truth there is no telling what the future holds. Although we don’t have all the answers yet, it is obvious from the similarities between the different species that over time one evolved from another, until finally arriving at what we are today and what we know as Modern Homo sapiens.

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