“Turning Back the Clock on Human Evolution”

“Alemseged was headed to the most dangerous spot within the Afar, which even Indiana Jones-types avoided because of constant conflicts between local tribes. The armed soldiers were his security. Alemseged had no salaried scientific position, and refused to accompany teams led by accomplished researchers going to safer areas with fat grants. If he struck out on his own, he felt sure he could discover academic gold: ancient traces of humankind’s past. This meant funding the expedition out of pocket. “I was the driver, so I didn’t need to pay a driver; I was the cook, so I didn’t need to pay a cook; and I was the only scientist,” Alemseged said.
His aim was to explore an area called Dikika, across from a bank on the Awash River where an American paleontologist, Donald Johansen, had discovered Lucy in 1974. Her ancient skeleton’s partially human, partially chimpanzee features were a clear indication of our descent from the apes. Dikika was the logical next place to look for more fossils, but no one had done so because of the risk presented by battles waged over water and land between the Afar and the Issa, pastoral tribes who inhabit Dikika. But Alemseged, who goes by Zeray (pronounced Zeh-rye), was not deterred… In 2006, Alemseged and his colleagues published their findings in Nature.
“It’s the earliest child in the history of humanity,” Alemseged said, enunciating each word slowly. “That discovery was 100 percent Ethiopian. It was by Ethiopians, on Ethiopian land, led by an Ethiopian scientist.”…
“The savannah hypothesis was perfectly reasonable, until it was like, ‘Oh crap, there weren’t grasslands,’ ” said Amy Rector in the museum facility in Addis Ababa, where she was surrounded by ancient antelope skulls, their long, twisted horns extruding from wooden boxes. Rector underscored another debunked scenario: the idea of a linear progression of humankind. Two years ago, the discovery of sausage-toed foot bones that match Ardi’s, in layers of rock from Australopithecus’ time, show that a range of upright-walking species occurred simultaneously for hundreds of thousands of years.”

I want more stories about non-Western scientists.

I also realize that I carry around a bunch of outdated narratives about human evolution — and the field is clearly advancing so quickly that it’s not super worthy taking an updated class right now.

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