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Notes on recent evolution of humans Notes on recent evolution of humans
by Joseph Gatt
2021-01-27 08:26:08
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When biologists discuss evolution, they jump straight from monkeys to humans. As if a monkey had given birth to a human.

Let me be nice and kind with creationists, while maintaining my scientific mind. Yes indeed, humans evolved from humans. Not from monkeys.


Let's be clear. Every generation sees its load of genetic mutations. So if you go back one generation, you have a few mutations. Two generations, more mutations. Three generations, more mutations. 10,000 generations, you do the math.

evol0001_400So our human ancestors had something of a curved backbone, less dexterity with their fingers, thicker fingers. They also had more fur or body hair, way more. And they had flatter noses, flatter faces. And they tended to be way shorter than we our (3 feet tall on average). And they could not talk, except perhaps emit sounds or cries or noises to signal danger.

Generation after generation, humans evolved. Thinner fingers, straighter backbones, more shape in the head, more elevated noses, taller built and stature.

There were biological shifts as well. Our current generation has a longer life expectancy, but is less resistant to bitter cold or boiling hot temperatures. Our current generation also has a weaker sense of smell and taste, because our ancestors had to identify danger in the form of poisonous food.

Our diet has changed a great deal. Our old ancestors were not raw vegans, but fed on berries and ants and insects like worms and leaves and shoots, and perhaps even herbs. That's what the original paleo diet was like. And our ancestors could survive longer without water; some say our ancestors did not even need to drink water save occasionally to survive. So our ancestors probably had a foul-smelling breath (haha).

Then, a few thousand generations later, our ancestors started hunting for meat, building stone and iron tools, and had access to water. Water started being used for drinking, hygiene and cultivation purposes.

Then our ancestors moved along rivers like the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Ganges and the Chinese rivers and started cultivating rice and wheat and corn.

That's how our chemical composition shifted. We lost our fur (or body hair) due to our bodies using some of the water stored to protect against the heat. That is sweat is a bit like an ancient version of sunscreen, and protects the skin from the heat and the burning sun.

Why did our ancestors sweat so much? In most agricultural societies, men sowed and tilled the ground, and women harvested during harvest season. To this day, this is the organization in most traditional farming societies.

Then you had those who made a living out of fishing or out of hunting.

Which leads to an interesting question: why do some men still have body hair when others don't? And why do some men become bald when they age and others don't?

Simple. Keep in mind that each of us, including you and me, descends from a lineage of several million direct ancestors. Do the math. Your 2 parents. 4 grandparents. 8 great-grandparents. 16 great-grandparents. So if you go back 20 generations, that's 1 million 48 thousand 576 ancestors. Well not exactly, because if your great-grandparents were cousins and that their great-grandparents were cousins, the number is slightly lower than that. 1,048,576 is the maximum number, assuming that none of your ancestors were cousins or related in any way.

So we are a mix of all these people, and inherit a gene here, a gene from there. But there are tendencies. If you are from a Bedouin family, chances are you have a unique gene set that resembles that of your Bedouin peers. Marriage with outsiders in Bedouin communities has always been rare.

So if you are from a given ethnic group, chances are you will share a lot of your genes with your ethnic group. If your ancestors were pastoralists or shepherds, chances are if you are a man you will have lots of body hair. Why? Because shepherds don't sweat all that much. In the Middle East, where agriculture is difficult due to the aridity of the soil, men tend to be hairy.

If your ancestors were farmers, chances are you will have fewer facial hair as a man, and perhaps straight hair, because farming communities tend to sweat a lot.

What about balding? In many communities, over the span of many generations, men used to wear hats to protect from the sun. And that caused to head to sweat considerably more, which led to hair falling, which led to a genetic mutation where the hair started falling naturally among descendents, even when those descendents were not farmers themselves.

What about women? Why don't women become bald like men? And why don't women have body and facial hair? Because women tended to stay home and in the kitchen, raising kids and doing chores. And only worked in the fields during the harvest.

So the dry air of the indoors meant that women lost their body and facial hair, and often, do not go bald like men.

Now to an important question: genetic predisposition to certain illnesses (like cancer or heart failure or diabetes and so on).

Cells, muscles, blood and heart rates of course adapt to the natural environment. But their functioning is also partly genetically predisposed.

The analogy I like to use is the genes are the computer operating system and the environment is how you use your computer desktop.

The computer operating system (often Windows 10 or XP or Vista or something) is designed to handle a lot of files, has a lot of memory in the hard disk, and can handle a lot of tabs and windows.

Now your computer could be unlucky. You barely use it, and Windows crashes, catches a virus, is attacked by a cyber attack, or there's a defect in the operating system.

OR, you could download a ton of stuff, open too many tabs, saturate your desktop with orders and information, and your operating system crashes.

Genes kind of work the same. Sometimes we are born with genes that have defects, and tough luck. When we were conceived, the genetic code was not properly reproduced, a mistake took place, and we're doomed.

Or, if we're lucky, we have good genes, but we also need not to saturate the genes with too much “junk” or “trash.”

Let's bust a myth first. Some historians like to say that our ancestors fed on gruel and that their food was horrible. Not true. Our ancestors had salt, vegetables, meat, grains, cheese, cow milk, goat milk, yoghurt, citrus fruits, apples, and a few other fruits. This diet goes back 3,000 years or more. Our ancestors also ate birds, doves, eagles and other stuff, but we don't eat those because they are rather bland in taste, have little flesh, and lots of bones.

What our ancestors did not have was this concentration of sugar found in soda (or pop) drinks, chocolate bars, breakfast cereal, and all sorts of snacks. Our ancestors did not have the concentration of sodium found in chips (or crisps). And our ancestors did not have the concentration of fat found in a modern burger, in bacon or in a bag of chips.

Our ancestors also walked a bit more than we do. And either tilled the land or herded flock. And that was all the exercise they had.

So our bodies in the end are no different from our cars. If you drive carefully, check the car and its mechanical aspects on a regular basis, fix anything that needs to be fixed, and drive responsibly, your car should have no problem. If you drive recklessly and forget to check and maintain your car, chances your car won't last long before something bad happens to it.

What about stress and anxiety? Those people who have ancestors whose fate did not depend on the whims of a landlord; tend to have lower anxiety levels. That is if your ancestors were pastors or rabbis or craftsmen or herders chances are you inherited good genes and tend to remain calm. If your ancestors were indentured servants or vassals or slaves, chances are you inherited a great deal of anxiety in your genes.

I'll discuss the neurological aspects of the deal in a future article. Stay tuned!

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