Human Evolution: A Pelican Introduction

Robin Dunbar

My review 2018-03-06

A thought-provoking review of the evolutionary development of Homo sapiens from the last common ancestor of the hominins about 6 million years ago. The story is built on comparisons of the other primates, fossil evidence, and inferences on levels of sociality from various sources. The differing hypotheses of e.g. when fire came under routine control are discussed. It is sometimes difficult to follow what is the generally accepted opinion of the scientific community, and what is the opinion of the author in controversial topics.

The author makes the case that laughter and music have social roots and likely preceded language, and also discusses the evolutionary roots of religion. The author's use of a time budget model that tries to capture the temporal constraints of ecological niche, foraging and social activities and their consequences for the interpretation of various other evidence. The point is that the importance of one specific activity has consequences for the role of other activities. It must all fit together, which puts limits on which combination of activities are possible.