READER QUESTION: We now know from evolutionary science that humanity has existed in some form or another for around 2 million years or more. Homo sapiens are comparatively new on the block. There were also many other human species, some which we interbred with. The question is then inevitable – when can we claim personhood in the long story of evolution? Are Chimpanzees people? Did Australopithecine have an afterlife? What are the implications for how we think about rights and religion? Anthony A. MacIsaac, 26, Paris, France.
While we don’t know exactly what these differences were, our distinctive skull shape may offer a clue. Neanderthals had elongated crania, with massive brow ridges. Humans have a bulbous skull, shaped like a soccer ball, and lack brow ridges. Curiously, the peculiar smooth, round head of adult Homo sapiens is seen in young Neanderthals – and even baby apes. Similarly, juvenilised skulls of wild animals are found in domesticated ones, like domestic dogs: an adult dog skull resembles the skull of a wolf pup. These similarities aren’t just superficial. Dogs are behaviourally like young wolves – [less aggressive] and more playful.
My suspicion, mostly a hunch, is that Homo sapiens’ edge might not necessarily be raw intelligence, but differences in attitude. Like dogs, we may retain juvenile behaviours, things like playfulness, openness to meeting new people, lower aggression, more creativity and curiosity. This in turn might have helped us make our societies larger, more complex, collaborative, open and innovative – which then outcompeted theirs.
Humans as self-domesticated apes? Interesting.