Molecular archaeology of human cognitive traits.
The brains and minds of our human ancestors remain inaccessible for experimental exploration. Therefore, we reconstructed human cognitive evolution by projecting nonsynonymous/synonymous rate ratios (ω values) in mammalian phylogeny onto the anatomically modern human (AMH) brain. This atlas retraces human neurogenetic selection and allows imputation of ancestral evolution in task-related functional networks (FNs). Adaptive evolution (high ω values) is associated with excitatory neurons and synaptic function. It shifted from FNs for motor control in anthropoid ancestry (60-41 mya) to attention in ancient hominoids (26-19 mya) and hominids (19-7.4 mya). Selection in FNs for language emerged with an early hominin ancestor (7.4-1.7 mya) and was later accompanied by adaptive evolution in FNs for strategic thinking during recent (0.8 mya-present) speciation of AMHs. This pattern mirrors increasingly complex cognitive demands and suggests that co-selection for language alongside strategic thinking may have separated AMHs from their archaic Denisovan and Neanderthal relatives.