March of Progress? It’s time we had a serious talk.


Hello! Welcome to today’s lesson. It’s an important one! One that addresses years, decades of misinformation, and flawed thinking. 

Check this article out, and have your own discussion, read this on Academia.edu!

Yes, we are talking about the “March of Progress” image. I am sure that many of you are already cringing.

The March of Progress, properly called The Road to Homo Sapiens, is an illustration that presents 25 million years of human evolution. It was created for the Early Man volume of the Life Nature Library, published in 1965, and drawn by the artist Rudolph Zallinger.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_of_Progress

So many people, since then, have used this image to explain our origins, in both scientific, and layman ways. Even today, it is still the most recognized symbol of evolution in the world. No shade to The Leakey Foundation, whom I love, and donate to, but their logo is misleading even to what we now know about Hominid Evolution. 

So scientists started to think, they figured they needed a better way to artistically express the pattern of Human evolution. So we had “The Family Tree” analogy that was introduced. This made a lot more sense to scientists and seemed much more probable. 

This model has worked until recently and is probably still one of the most accepted versions by anthropologists. It does a good job, but not a perfect one and it leaves a great deal to be desired. So what is a good model? What should we be looking at when we want to see our direct hominin line? 

As more and more fossils however make their way back to the surface of the Earth for the first time in thousands, sometimes millions of years. The more we learn, the more we can figure out what the past ecology of the area (Africa) was during the Pleistocene. But even this, still left information to be desired. With so many new species being discovered at what seems to be an incredible rate, we have to re-think how each human species has related to one another in the last 7 million years. 

So what should we do? Is there a better model? Well, of course! Why else would we be here! In the last decade or so, (or maybe longer, it is not like I was around) a new term, and a new method of exploring and viewing our interconnectedness is called the Braided Stream. 

While the idea has been around for a while, and many models have been made, just the other day, Prof. Lee Berger published his graphic of the Braided Stream, and as a huge proponent for the idea of the Braided Stream, I hope he approves of this article. 

So what do we have here? In this image, we can easily depict that Human Evolution did not occur in a line or even a tree. But rather it intertwined with itself here and there, leading to dead ends, or lines of continuing evolution. We can see that species existed often in the same period, and even in the same places, where introgression occurred, 

What is Introgression? Well, let’s define that real quick before continuing, according to Oxford Dictionary, “the transfer of genetic information from one species to another as a result of hybridization between them and repeated backcrossing”. 

Thus, we can see not only genetically but morphologically how species shared features and evolutionary traits until we got some mixture that worked out better than any other and that’s how you get to where we are today! 

So you may be asking, why is this so important? Why must we change how not only scientists and professors understand our evolution, but the layman as well. For the first time in history, as of this date, more than 50% of United States citizens “believe” in evolution. However, that does not mean they understand it. They rely on us, the scientists to make sense of it all and translate it from gibberish to easy to follow and digestible information! 

The more we learn about our shared Human Origins, the more we will realize we are all one, we may come from different corners of the world, but we all come from Africa. We are all, Homo sapiens sapiens. Everything else, is well, extinct. We are the last ones left.

Science education and communication is the future of STEM and thus our future as well. While it might seem like a small and minor thing to correct, you have to start somewhere, and might as well start at the preverbal beginning, just as the March of Progress does. 

If you want to help spread the more correct version of the human phylogeny, then please, feel free to share this article, for I think it is a good place to start. 

We did not evolve from monkeys, are chimps, we evolved from Hominids. There was no “March of Progress”, but a braided stream that is ever flowing in and out of itself. Species living and dying, features appearing and disappearing in the fossil record. It’s time to acknowledge that Human Origins is not just a straight line, but twisted, elusive, and mysterious. 

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Published by sethchagi

I am a Paleoanthropology Student, so far with two degrees, in Anthropology and Human Behavioral Science, pursuing my PhD. I love to read (like a lot) and write, I love my family, and I adore anthropology! Remember, never stop exploring and never stop learning! There is always more to learn!

One thought on “March of Progress? It’s time we had a serious talk.

  1. The simplest bias-free solution is to map each specimen (not ‘species’) on a geographic vs. time scale.
    That way other criteria can then be added as separate dimensions. This makes multivariate scales explicit easier to analyse.

    Like

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