The contribution of primatology to anthropology

Titolo Rivista PARADIGMI
Autori/Curatori Roscoe Stanyon, Francesca Bigoni
Anno di pubblicazione 2017 Fascicolo 2017/2 Lingua Inglese
Numero pagine 18 P. 41-58 Dimensione file 650 KB
DOI 10.3280/PARA2017-002004
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The importance of primatology for anthropology was evident right from the beginning of the Darwinian revolution, ever since Huxley illustrated how comparison of humans and great apes could provide vital information on "Man’s place in nature". Primatology continues to make fundamental contributions to progress in anthropology by providing a fruitful avenue to test hypotheses on human evolution. Sometimes it has provided the only means to falsify the unique characters which were thought to define the human species. Biomolecular comparisons of humans and other primates, beginning with immunology to the whole genome sequencing of today allowed anthropologists to more correctly construct a time and geographic framework for scenarios of human evolution. In the 1960s such comparisons showed that the divergence of humans from great apes was three to four times more recent than previously thought and that humans were more closely related to African great apes than Asian apes. In the 1980s and 90s genomic comparisons showed that Homo sapiens originated very recently in Africa and rapidly spread over the globe during the last 100.000 years. Behavior studies of our near rela-tives, such as those by Jane Goodall, debunked claims that only humans had culture, could design and make tools or plan actions that were disjoint in time and space. Recent research provides evidence for the evolutionary development of ethical and moral behavior privileging a "bottom up" instead of a "top down" approach.

L’importanza della primatologia per gli studi antropologici fu evidente già all’inizio della rivoluzione darwiniana, da quando Huxley illustrò come lo studio comparativo fra umani e scimmie antropomorfe potesse fornire informazioni vitali sul "Man’s place in nature". La primatologia continua a produrre contributi fondamentali ai progressi in antropologia, proponendo elementi preziosi che permettono di testare ipotesi sull’evoluzione umana. Talvolta ha forni-to i soli contenuti che hanno permesso di falsificare quei caratteri ritenuti unici di Homo sapiens e sulla cui base veniva definita la stessa specie umana. La comparazione biomolecolare fra umani e altri primati, iniziando dall’immunologia fino al sequenziamento di interi genomi di oggi, ha permesso agli antropologi di ricostruire correttamente scenari geografici e temporali dell’evoluzione umana. Negli anni ’60 tali comparazioni mostrarono che il tempo di divergenza fra umani e grandi antropomorfe era tre o quattro volte più recente di quanto ritenuto e che gli umani erano più strettamente imparentati con le antropomorfe africane con quelle asiatiche. Nei decenni 1980/90, comparazioni genomiche dimostrarono che Homo sapiens aveva avuto origine molto recentemente in Africa e da lì si era rapidamente diffuso sul globo durante gli ultimi 100.000 anni. Studi comportamentali dei nostri più vicini parenti, come quelli di Jane Goodall, smontarono il paradigma che solo gli umani abbiano cultura, possano progettare e produrre strumenti o pianificare azioni disgiunte nel tempo e nello spazio. Ricerche recenti ci forniscono evidenze sullo sviluppo evolutivo del comportamento etico e morale privilegiando un approccio "bottom up" su quello "top down".

Keywords:Evoluzione, Comparazione filogenetica, Cronologia molecolare, Culture nei primati, Origini dell’empatia, Storia naturale.

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Roscoe Stanyon, Francesca Bigoni, The contribution of primatology to anthropology in "PARADIGMI" 2/2017, pp 41-58, DOI: 10.3280/PARA2017-002004