Chapter 9 - How Different Are Humans and “Great Apes”? A Matrix of Comparative Anthropogeny
Recent molecular evidence including complete genome sequences has firmly grouped humans with the so-called “great apes”: chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. But chimpanzees and bonobos are more closely related to humans than they are to the other ape species. Thus, a more taxonomically correct term for great apes is “nonhuman hominids.” By definition each species is unique, as it represents the outcome of independent evolution. However, humans have many characteristics that have never been described in any other primate. The nascent discipline of anthropogeny brings together widely different scientific approaches aimed at explaining the origins of such distinctly human phenomena, and in the process, seeks to explain the origin of our species. Publications focusing on human “uniqueness” commonly show biases toward the most obvious aspects, such as enlarged brains, language, bipedalism, or control of fire. However, a comprehensive transdisciplinary approach is needed to generate a more complete list (or matrix) of human-specific characteristics that evolved over the last ∼6 million years, spanning from the molecular to the social, from anatomical to behavioral, and from neuronal to cultural. An open access resource called the Matrix of Comparative Anthropogeny (MOCA) has been established at the website of the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA), to facilitate such exploration of distinctly human attributes and their evolutionary origins. It aims at providing an unbiased collection of comparative information regarding humans and our closest evolutionary cousins, with an emphasis on uniquely human features. While the deep evolutionary roots of human features are apparent, so are the many novel characteristics that led to humans becoming the dominant life form on our planet.