Jean-Jacques Hublin on human evolution (05-07-2016)

Jean-Jacques Hublin talking about evolution of the human species and the question what makes us so dangerous.

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00:00:00 Do you remember could you describe me the first fossil you found. The first fossil
00:00:07 I found was found behind apartment building where I lived when I was about eleven years old
00:00:17 and I was interested in natural history in this period of my life I was a big reader of books about nature animals
00:00:30 plants butterflies all sorts of things like that and.
00:00:34 I had the chance to visit the Natural History Museum in Paris with my cousin.
00:00:40 And my cousin offered me a little book about fossils and I was very enthusiastic about finding fossils myself.
00:00:49 And so using this little book I scouted around the house in the neighborhood and luckily
00:00:57 Well by the way nothing very surprising.
00:01:00 I found a mollusc on a piece of lime stone and so I was happy to connect that with what I had in this book
00:01:09 and that was my first fossil really what you were twelve years old something like that when you found it? Eleven
00:01:16 and what did you find so fascinating of this fossile. Well it's a complicated story.
00:01:26 I was born in Algeria and I grew up there until I was like eight years old.
00:01:35 And I grew up in a very I would say unstable
00:01:40 and violent environment because it was a colonial war there a colonial war that turned to be a civilian war
00:01:51 in the end. And so my my childhood was surrounded by a very I would say scary environment somehow.
00:02:02 And then I was deported outside of the country with my family
00:02:07 and I lived in France around Paris in not so nice neighborhoods for some years. And I think probably to me.
00:02:19 Natural history was a sort of escape into a world that was much nicer somehow in this rather grim or scary environment
00:02:30 and I when I discovered paleontology when I discovered fossils.
00:02:38 In this natural history museum I realize that beyond the nature of today there was another nature.
00:02:47 There were ancient natures and it was like a multiplication of this world
00:02:54 and it was even more fascinating because we did not know everything about these past worlds
00:02:59 and there was a lot to discover.
00:03:03 So that's where it started. When you went on looking into the fossils what you find or discover.
00:03:14 Well I was I think I was a little bit obsessed by fossils. In this time period of my life and so.
00:03:25 I had the chance at the middle school where I was to meet a professor who was also interested in fossils
00:03:33 and paleontology and supported me and pushed me to persevere in this topic
00:03:44 and so I had a lot of activities that were either at school or with this professor and that was around paleontology.
00:03:55 We created a local geology club and we did a lot of excursions to find fossils with other kids.
00:04:05 I know I was the most motivated of all of them I was the president of the association
00:04:12 and the chief editor of the journal the probably the only reader of the journal and then yeah.
00:04:20 So basically I think at this stage of my life I decided what I wanted to be what I wanted to do
00:04:28 and I just continued throughout the years to work in this direction and I never really.
00:04:34 Deviated much. still what is so fascinating for you now at this age about it. Well I yeah.
00:04:44 Now it becomes something a little bit different.
00:04:48 I would say because now I'm mostly interested about human fossils and not just reconstructing nature and environment
00:04:57 but I'm working on humans who lived a long time before us
00:05:03 and these Humans are not exactly like us they share a lot of features they somehow belong to human kind but
00:05:12 but they are also different in many aspects and so they are a little bit like to say aliens somehow
00:05:21 and I found this extremely fascinating to think on humans which are not completely humans like us. the other thing is
00:05:32 and this also probably connects with my childhood.
00:05:36 I think there is something about saving something from death and oblivion
00:05:45 and the fate of all living creatures is to disappear completely. But by chance when we have a fossil of a human.
00:06:00 who lived half a million year ago.
00:06:02 So suddenly we saved something of this life somehow we we resuscitate a part of his existence
00:06:12 and we can learn things about even his or her daily life. So to me it's not just a piece of bone.
00:06:21 somehow it's a person.
00:06:24 And of course I would say the communication is very limited with this person but there is something like that.
00:06:30 So it's a bit like travelling through time and connecting with a lost world.
00:06:36 And discovering things that are somehow unknown to others
00:06:42 or unknown to us until we are able to unveil something of their past reality. and what kind of humans.
00:06:51 what are we talking about. Well today we live in a world where there is only one kind of humans.
00:06:58 And we have we are what we call what paleontologists and biologists call modern humans and modern humans are.
00:07:09 a late version of a species that we call homo sapiens and today this is the only species of humans on Earth but
00:07:16 when we move back in time. It was almost never like that.
00:07:21 So in past there was
00:07:22 always several groups of humans we don't know if we should call them specious or subspecies
00:07:30 but what is clear is that we had groups of humans in the past that were much more different one from the other than any
00:07:37 kind of differences that you can see today between modern humans living in different parts of the world so.
00:07:44 An order of magnitude higher and so just moving let's say a hundred thousand years ago.
00:07:54 We know that we have the ancestor of modern humans living in Africa.
00:08:00 But on other continents we have Neanderthals in Europe
00:08:03 and parts of Asia is a group living in the Far East that we call Denisovans and it's a group that has been identified
00:08:12 rather recently we also know that in some islands off Indonesia like Flores we have another kind of
00:08:21 creature which is probably the descendants of local homo erectus a very ancient hominin
00:08:30 and these humans living in Flores they are very minute creatures. They are being called Hobbits.
00:08:42 And all these groups they are there are quite different one from the other
00:08:46 what happened at some point is that our ancestors the modern humans who lived in Africa started to expand outside
00:08:59 of their geographical domain. And they expanded first in Southwest Asia.
00:09:06 Maybe they entered a large portion of Asia rather early
00:09:11 and then about I would say fifty thousand years ago their expansion accelerated a lot
00:09:18 and so they started moving into the domain of the Neanderthals in Europe they went to Australia they moved
00:09:26 further east in the place where the Denisovans lived.
00:09:32 Eventually they entered in the higher latitudes they passed in the Americas.
00:09:39 via the Bering strait and they went to all the most remote islands in the middle of oceans.
00:09:48 What made them or us actually, our ancestors so successful.
00:09:54 That's a big mystery actually that's the question we try to understand to resolve.
00:10:00 and what's in what's fascinating
00:10:03 when one compares modern humans Neanderthals other hominins of the time period around Say hundred to fifty thousand
00:10:12 years ago that we see that all these hominins are sort of evolving in the same direction and they have bigger
00:10:21 and bigger brains and they have more and more complex behaviors
00:10:25 and probably they are sort of responding to the same kind of pressure of selection.
00:10:32 But something happened with one of these groups our ancestors that gradually made them I would say extremely successful
00:10:41 as a species and
00:10:43 when we say successful for a species it means that these species have a higher reproductive success than others. And so.
00:10:55 These humans start to replace all the others.
00:11:00 We know now that there was a certain level of admixture with local population and that's an idea that the.
00:11:11 The media and the public like very much. But the truth is that this admixture was very reduced in fact very little.
00:11:25 A couple of percent not more. And so it's primarily a replacement of population.
00:11:31 So there is something with our species which is new. At the scale of hominin evolution.
00:11:39 And this something new.
00:11:42 Could be related to technology for example people some people have believed that these modern humans had some kind of
00:11:49 new tools new weapons some kind of new cognitive abilities. Maybe something related to the complexity of
00:12:00 Language for example or it could also be something related to.
00:12:07 The complexity of the social networks of these people. in what way. Well.
00:12:15 Humans are extremely good at creating connections with other humans and not just humans in their direct
00:12:25 environment but even humans living far away. And so.
00:12:31 So in other words the
00:12:32 when we speak about a group of humans we don't speak about families we talk about networks that covers a very large
00:12:41 portion of a continent.
00:12:44 And so we don't know exactly when this developed in the course of human evolution but it's very likely that.
00:12:53 Belonging to such a large network is a considerable strength.
00:13:00 If you compete with other hominins who are basically organized in the form of local groups which can be very
00:13:11 successful but with the size of the social network more result. This is one idea but there are many others.
00:13:19 There are also many I would say psychological traits of modern humans which of course are very difficult to investigate
00:13:29 in the fossil record but things like if you think on things like altruism or heroism
00:13:39 or things like that it's you know the ability of a individual to lose something for the benefit of others
00:13:52 or even to sacrifice himself for a self for the survival of others. This also. It's a remarkable feature of humans.
00:14:03 Again we don't know exactly when in the course of human evolution these develop but we can easily imagine that.
00:14:11 One group having this kind of behaviors that would compete with another group that does not have this kind of
00:14:18 features. Well that would be also a big advantage. and not so nice for the competition I suppose.
00:14:26 Yeah but of course today we.
00:14:30 We like to think on humans of the past with I would say with pink glasses and so we like to think on
00:14:39 hunter gatherers of the past Neanderthals or early modern humans as peaceful
00:14:47 hunter gatherers that lived in equilibrium with nature and did not overexploit the environment and were nice.
00:14:57 With others. I'm not so convinced that humans have ever been so good.
00:15:05 Again I think maybe it's a memory of my own childhood or life but I know that humans can be.
00:15:12 really terrible with others especially others from a different group
00:15:19 and so you can love your family your children your friends your neighbors and.
00:15:26 And kill other people who have a different language
00:15:28 or a different kind of culture. so in a way humans are dangerous as a species for other species.
00:15:36 Well humans. actually humans have been dangerous not just for other humans
00:15:42 but they have been dangerous in general for other species
00:15:46 and there is something that could be related to the expansion of modern humans. Showing that.
00:15:55 Let's say after fifty thousand we see signs of a direct impact of the human expansion.
00:16:07 On the environment
00:16:08 and especially on the fauna of course there are already signs of that further back in the past we see for
00:16:18 example when humans start to hunt.
00:16:21 Other animals they compete with carnivores and in this competition sometimes carnivores are very good
00:16:27 but sometimes humans are better.
00:16:29 So we have reduction of the number of carnivores in Africa already between two and one million years ago but
00:16:37 when modern humans started to expand out of Africa especially
00:16:43 when they're going to reach areas where humans never lived before places where there was no Neanderthals no Denisovan
00:16:52 nothing places like Australia for example or Americas.
00:16:57 So there the impact of these groups is going to be rather terrible on the on the fauna
00:17:05 we see a lot of large animals disappearing
00:17:09 and we think that the predation of humans is for something so. and what is it that makes it so dangerous.
00:17:18 Well I think probably the difference between modern humans recent modern humans.
00:17:24 And other hominins is that we have a way to exploit the resource which is much more intense somehow For example we know
00:17:36 that Neanderthals in Europe co-existed with a number of species that are going to disappear
00:17:45 when modern humans arrived and replaced Neanderthals.
00:17:49 By the way in a rather provocative way I could say Neanderthals were just like another species of predators that has
00:17:58 been eliminated by modern humans I know it's politically incorrect. How did we do that. Well for the fauna
00:18:10 It's quite easy to understand it it looks like the number of preys that we extract from the environment is for some
00:18:20 species is too high.
00:18:24 Very large animals like say elephants for example they have a rather slow reproduction rate
00:18:33 and so if you start taking too many young individuals at some point it becomes not sustainable for the species
00:18:42 carnivores Well you can hunt them directly.
00:18:45 You can also compete with them for the preys and then the result is more or less the same.
00:18:51 Now for humans it's difficult to say because you have many ways one group of humans can replace another
00:18:59 and I think in the case of Neanderthals. We have a competition for the occupation of the European territory.
00:19:10 Between Neanderthals and modern humans.
00:19:13 I don't think these groups they co-existed anywhere for a long time I think at the scale of the continents they co-existed
00:19:21 but locally in one region one valley. I don't think so and so you can you can have a direct.
00:19:33 I would say conflict.
00:19:35 You know hunter gatherers off to I mean recent
00:19:38 hunter gatherers they they go at war against other groups especially when they compete for a resource.
00:19:45 So you know you kill the men you take the women you do things not very nice
00:19:52 but then of course there are other factors that can add on that you can be more.
00:20:00 effective in exploiting the environment which means in the end you're going to have more children
00:20:05 and these children have a higher chance of survival
00:20:10 and you can have also a long higher longevity higher chance of survival as a young adult all these put together
00:20:21 especially if you're dealing with groups that are represented by small numbers
00:20:28 and this is something we it's difficult to imagine for us but
00:20:32 when we speak about early modern humans or Neanderthals in Europe we're talking about population size of
00:20:40 ten thousand twenty thousand something like that maybe a bit more
00:20:44 but not we're not talking about hundreds of thousands or millions.
00:20:48 So for groups of a I would say a few thousand individual if you have a difference in demographic success clearly one's
00:20:58 going to replace another and then you have other things like disease Things like that so.
00:21:06 Finally it's a it's a complex process including absorption of some individuals in the group
00:21:12 but in the end what is clear is that.
00:21:16 Let's say after forty thousand years ago in in Europe in most of Europe you have only modern humans maybe there are
00:21:23 some Neanderthals surviving in a corner in the southern Iberia our places like that but not for a very long time.
00:21:31 And if you look at the genome of these Modern humans in Europe in this time period.
00:21:41 We have something like about four percent of Neanderthal D.N.A.
00:21:45 In their genome and this four percent are going to gradually decrease because there is a selection
00:21:54 a natural selection against this part of the genome and today.
00:22:00 non African humans carry about two percent of Neanderthal genome and we're not sure that in this two percent
00:22:07 there are much D.N.A.
00:22:11 Coding for important features which is another aspect of the problem. And why did you choose
00:22:20 To to go in this scientific field I mean looking into humans and not in other species. Why did you choose that. Well.
00:22:31 Well first of all I continued to be interested in other creatures than than humans.
00:22:39 But what I like with human evolution is that it allowed me to combine also an interest for archaeology.
00:22:48 And archaeology is the science investigating the material culture of humans
00:22:58 and trying to understand what is going on in terms of technical evolution or other behaviors for humans
00:23:06 and what is really peculiar with hominins in general
00:23:12 and especially more with modern humans is that it's impossible to disentangle cultural evolution
00:23:24 and biological evolution and so the the whole story of human evolution is an interaction between culture.
00:23:36 And social organization and biology and looking at one without looking at the other is sort of.
00:23:45 I would say meaningless. And what makes you and your institute so incredibly good at this. Well For me I guess it's motivation
00:23:58 Like for everything
00:24:00 in life you have to be very motivated in what you do what I've tried to do
00:24:05 when I moved to Leipzig was to create a department where there was these different aspects of human evolution that
00:24:15 could be investigated and not just with I would say.
00:24:20 Classical methods of human paleontology and paleolithic archaeology.
00:24:26 But putting
00:24:27 also on top of that many methods coming from what is called archaeological sciences which basically means physics
00:24:37 and chemistry applied to the kind of questions we can address. For human evolution and so this
00:24:49 This concept is something that I did not really invent myself because there are other people who had this idea that
00:24:58 basically we had to look at all these aspects of human evolution
00:25:02 but as a matter of fact there are very few places on earth.
00:25:08 If there are any beside here in Leipzig where all these aspects are studied. By one department.
00:25:19 Going into all these directions. When I was a young scientist I.
00:25:25 I was invited to teach at Berkeley University where there was a professor who was just getting retired.
00:25:35 Francis Clark Howell
00:25:38 and Francis Clark Howell had a very strong influence on me. he was the one who basically proposed this concept
00:25:49 of what is called paleoanthropology.
00:25:51 Which is putting together all sort of fields including things like environmental sciences paleoclimatology.
00:26:00 looking at many other aspects of the surroundings of hominins to try to decipher human evolution.
00:26:09 And Clark I would say developed his career in a academic environment in the U.S. where there was still a department of anthropology
00:26:25 Where there was for example cultural anthropology and palaeontology together and with other things like linguistics
00:26:34 or genetics all these in one big department today this is gone.
00:26:41 Mostly. And now it's only here in Leipzig. it's not only here but it's mostly here
00:26:46 and so I was I was extremely I would say fortunate to be offered to create this department in this institute because
00:26:56 this institute already addresses the question of what makes humans different. And to address this question.
00:27:09 There were already in this institute departments like linguistics genetics primatology the study of our
00:27:20 direct relatives African apes and Asian apes people also working on
00:27:28 The development of psychology in children and apes
00:27:32 and to me I thought it looked to me like that was like the best place to develop my department with people coming
00:27:42 with these different disciplines.
00:27:45 And with the modern techniques of course you are able to discover and understand more
00:27:52 and more of this human evolution. We become much more ambitious today yeah. In the.
00:28:01 When I started to do paleontology when I was let's say this little boy looking for fossils or even when I was a student
00:28:10 and doing my Ph D.
00:28:12 Studying the fossils were mostly looking at bumps and holes on bones and making measurements
00:28:20 and trying to describe the shape of different fossils and basically grouping them in different species
00:28:31 and trying to built up a tree of human evolution and connecting that with a chronology and some stone artefacts
00:28:39 but today we try to investigate things like diet like mobility. Accessing the genome of fossils.
00:28:52 It's something we even did not think of when I was a beginner in the field
00:28:58 and now we can say things about you know how connected were the father
00:29:03 and the mother of a Neanderthal who lived forty five thousand years ago and we can say oh this pair the mother
00:29:12 and the father they could have been maybe half siblings or cousins
00:29:18 or things like that we can say things about the mobility of humans in the landscape.
00:29:25 We can say even things about the way they exploit the fauna
00:29:30 what kind of if the animals they are hunting are coming from far away
00:29:38 or they are local animals so we can really say a lot of things about I would say their daily life.
00:29:46 In the meantime of course there is a sort of frustrating limit. That seems still impossible.
00:29:56 Sometime I ask what would you like to know.
00:30:00 About Neanderthals for example
00:30:02 and as a joke a couple of time I already said Oh I would like to know what kind of relationship
00:30:08 a Neanderthal had with his brother in law.
00:30:12 And I think yeah this is really where it would be really important for example to figure out what could have been a
00:30:20 difference between Neanderthals and modern humans. I'm not sure we know that ever. But it is a limit that
00:30:27 You would like to cross. Yeah sure sure.
00:30:31 I think there is a difficulty in our field and the difficulty comes from the fact that it's a paradox
00:30:40 but there is a great interest of the public for Origins. people want to know about origins they want to know about
00:30:53 Neanderthals and modern humans
00:30:56 and it's incredibly popular. somehow it's great because I guess this is how I could make a job of these interest in the
00:31:07 meantime it results in the construction of mythology I would say that is a sort of scientific mythology.
00:31:22 That replaced a religious believe in the past. So all human societies have their myth of origin.
00:31:30 Western societies they have prehistory and paleoanthropology
00:31:35 and so the result of that is that there is a lot of storytelling for basically to compensate for the lack of
00:31:46 information we have with many aspects of the nature and the life of ancient humans.
00:31:54 And so we tend to. There is a sort of pressure of the environment the public the media for us to tell stories.
00:32:04 And so there are many topics for which we have to use our imagination to basically fill the gaps
00:32:12 and so this is where it's a bit problematic because I think we fill the gap with conceptions that are mostly depending
00:32:21 on the ideology of the historical period where we live.
00:32:28 And so I always warn the students about even scientific papers about separating the evidence.
00:32:40 The scientific results and the storytelling and there is always a little bit of storytelling.
00:32:47 What kind of storytelling should i think about. Oh I it's quite obvious that for example this question of
00:32:59 The difference between Neanderthals and modern humans or the replacement process of Neanderthals by modern humans
00:33:07 and things like that are deeply influenced by scenarios that we have in mind.
00:33:16 And which are not always just a deduction from the empirical evidence that we have from sites. And if you.
00:33:26 For example if you like to think that ancient hunter gatherers was you know.
00:33:35 As I said peaceful hunter gatherers who were preoccupied by ecology
00:33:39 and not discriminating these poor Neanderthals you are going to built up stories around that.
00:33:48 And so I think our field is easily filled with this kind of thing. And as you move further back in time.
00:34:00 I think we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what ancient hominins were because the natural trend for humans is to
00:34:09 project themselves in the past. So when we speak about hominins living a million and a half years ago.
00:34:20 Rather naturally we see them as humans of today that would not have all the technology that we have.
00:34:29 And maybe a smaller brain
00:34:31 but basically it would be very close to us they would be in better health a bit stronger
00:34:37 but they would see the world like we see it and they would see each other as we see each other
00:34:42 and I think this is completely wrong in fact but.
00:34:48 For millennia humans they have built up this vision of the world where they are there is us
00:34:57 and the rest of the world for example we see us as completely separated from animals.
00:35:05 When in fact if you look at many of the human features that have been for a long time believed to be proper to humans.
00:35:15 You will find out that you find all these things in many other species of course not with the degree of complexity or
00:35:26 the degree of intensity that you see in humans but you will find it so in other words.
00:35:34 There is not a very well cut limit between the humans and the others.
00:35:40 And so there is this grey zone where we have archaic hominins which I think to me again I found it absolutely fascinating.
00:35:51 But for many people including in my field of science. Yeah there is this.
00:36:00 Sort of tendency to separate what is the real humans and something more much more different and primitive before.
00:36:11 And so we in other words which we have a tendency to humanize as much as possible.
00:36:18 Everything which is close to us in time
00:36:21 and then beyond a certain point then we basically see everything like very primitive very different.
00:36:33 And so this border has been moving through time and so.
00:36:37 For some people humans start with the genius homo for other the humans start with modern humans
00:36:45 and you have almost everything in between and of course the reality is much more complex. There is a sentence in.
00:36:58 A book by a famous French writer called Toqueville who wrote a book about.
00:37:04 Democracy in America and in this book Toqueville says somewhere that any wrong idea
00:37:17 but that would be very simple and very clear would be always much more successful than a complicated but true
00:37:27 Concept and I think it is very true also in science and in my science especially. It's also actually when you think about that.
00:37:40 It's what we can learn from your scientific field can help us also to understand what will happen to the human species
00:37:49 in the future. I think yes. Somehow you can see the field of human evolution like a sort of substitute for.
00:38:03 A mythology a myth of origin and it's of course it's a science but it has this mythological dimension
00:38:11 also but recently I think there is another
00:38:15 sort of aspect that has been developing a lot which is trying to understand.
00:38:21 The way humans evolved in the past and the way humans interacted with other species and with the planet in general.
00:38:32 Give us a sort of deeper perspective on what could be the future of human evolution and.
00:38:42 And this is a rather new I would say preoccupation for humans.
00:38:51 Humans have been always preoccupied by what was going to happen in the future.
00:38:56 But for example the notion that humans are changing the climate.
00:39:04 The notion that humans are pushing to extinction so many species something rather new.
00:39:10 At the scale of human evolution I would say. So it's really a historical process that is just very close to us.
00:39:18 So many people worry about the fact that since the global warming has been discovered we don't do much.
00:39:27 Well as a matter of fact if you. again if you think on deep history
00:39:32 I found remarkable that so soon after finding out something is going on that we are already trying to find
00:39:40 a solution and somehow I'm rather optimistic I think humans will find solutions and try to change that but
00:39:48 but again to sort of have an influence of this interaction between humans and environment is very important to.
00:40:00 to have the background to understand what was before and how humans have already altered the planet.
00:40:07 There is another aspect which is the biological and even social evolution of humans.
00:40:15 There are many practical things like for example our diet.
00:40:19 You know the way we eat we feed our bodies it's something today that become.
00:40:27 Is becoming a problem for a lot of obese people. why. Well there is a evolutionary
00:40:35 Explanation for that we have adaptations that were designed somehow for a different style of life.
00:40:42 And so the fact that humans have developed very peculiar features in the past to be successful is very important to
00:40:53 figure out why we are where we are today. And even going deeper into for example.
00:41:03 Questions that now become really I would say dramatically important like acting on our own genome.
00:41:16 Again it's dramatically important to understand what has been the past evolution of humans
00:41:22 and what you know how selection worked on humans
00:41:25 and why humans are what they are before we started to play with our own genes. It's a new chapter of life.
00:41:35 Evolution starting because it never happened before that one species living species could take the control of the
00:41:45 genome of other species.
00:41:49 To this extent in a sort of deliberate way
00:41:53 and then started to somehow take the control of its own genome.
00:42:00 But that made also the human species so successful that we were always able to.
00:42:06 Yeah but I would say we are successful and dangerous
00:42:14 and it's because we are dangerous that we have been successful somehow. But now we have to be careful with.
00:42:21 This notion of danger and success because maybe there is a level of danger that ultimately would hurt our success.
00:42:35 So in the. In other words we have to think a lot on and I think we do it.
00:42:42 Actually I think I found it somehow admirable somehow of course we don't do it as much as we should
00:42:49 but at least there are people doing it.
00:42:53 Again if you think on the past history of humans for the last millennia.
00:43:00 It's something really new somehow. and we create new species technical species.
00:43:07 Yeah we oh you know something really amazing.
00:43:12 There are many things amazing about human evolution
00:43:15 but there is one thing that I like to think of is the way humans have externalised biological function.
00:43:28 In their technical or social environment. And there would be we could speak for hours about this but.
00:43:37 This is really something fascinating and by the way it explains why cultural
00:43:43 and social evolution is so basically intertwined with the biological evolution. And humans have this very peculiar.
00:43:56 niche in nature that they create.
00:44:00 complex societies they create artefacts they have this trend to more and more behavioral complexity
00:44:09 and to do that they need a big brain and not just a big brain but a very good big brain
00:44:15 and this big brain is fantastic. We can do amazing things with with our brain. No need to detail that.
00:44:24 But this big brain has a cost. And the cost is very high. It is very high in terms of energy supply.
00:44:36 It's very high in terms of maintenance
00:44:40 and all sort of things it has a very high price in terms of producing other humans babies and children etc.
00:44:48 And so we had to change a lot of things. In our biology. To accommodate this very costly organ.
00:44:58 And
00:44:58 when we say we had to change it isn't It was not a deliberate decision of humans it's natural selection that pushed
00:45:06 us into this direction
00:45:08 and so we have reorganized a lot of things in our biology physiology to make this possible this evolution things like
00:45:19 our diet. Again the way we reproduce things like that in the meantime.
00:45:26 This has been made possible because of the technical environment that we created. If you think for example on diet.
00:45:37 We can extract much more calories from our food to fuel our costly brain because we have weapons that in the past
00:45:51 were used to kill animals at a distance we had tools to dispatch the carcasses of these animals we were able to.
00:46:00 Later we have learned how to cook food to prepare the food we eat etc
00:46:07 and so in other words things that were basically
00:46:11 handled by our organism in the past had been delegated to things which are external to our body
00:46:20 and this is true for other aspects.
00:46:23 Not just in the technical or material domain but also in the social domain like for example.
00:46:37 The brain is very costly for an adult is even more costly for a child. And it's a big issue.
00:46:45 If you think on that for a mother to be able to fuel and maintain their own brain
00:46:52 and in the meantime to develop a baby with a brain that is also very costly
00:46:58 and so we gradually we started to have a very peculiar way to give birth to children
00:47:07 and we gave birth to children with a brain which is unfinished. I mean all.
00:47:13 I mean for most mammals the brain isn't finished at birth.
00:47:16 But our brain is really unfinished and so most of the growth of the brain occures.
00:47:25 After birth especially the wiring of the brain and so this wiring develops
00:47:31 when you are interacting with the environment which by the way makes it even more efficient
00:47:36 and complex a little bit like you would.
00:47:40 Remodel a computer that you would be using for different tasks you know
00:47:45 but then there is another sort of layer on that is that by weaning our children very early and making them.
00:47:55 able to eat solid food before their brain became.
00:48:00 Too big it became possible for the females to share the burden of fueling the brain of the developing children with other
00:48:09 adults of the group. So we became co-operative breeders and so the you know the.
00:48:18 Raising children is a collective venture.
00:48:23 For humans. But now we're also able to externalize the brain we make artificial brain. Exactly.
00:48:29 So now we continue to externalize we externalize memory and this started already with coding things.
00:48:41 The writing is already.
00:48:43 I mean just representing pictures symbols was already a way to externalize something out of our brain then a second
00:48:54 major step was writing because then writing was you know you could store as many as almost as much as information
00:49:03 you wanted without having to hold it in your brain. You know when when writing was invented.
00:49:09 There were people and still the ancient Greeks
00:49:13 or the druids in Europe worried about writing because they had this feeling that people would lose their ability to
00:49:20 remember things because they had this easy way to record things. I mean ancient Greeks some ancient Greeks.
00:49:30 But now of course we go much further with digital storage of information
00:49:38 and by the way extending this I mentioned already this ability and this need of humans for building up networks.
00:49:50 Now these networks are planetary networks and again it's through technology that we have been able to do that.
00:49:57 But I think the following step would be a sort of reinternalization of what we have as externalized as devices.
00:50:11 So in other words. Well this is a bit of science fiction but people worry a lot about.
00:50:23 Intelligent machines robots basically competition between humans and artificial intelligence.
00:50:33 I think we will internalize artificial intelligence so it would not be any more external
00:50:40 but internal somehow and people have tried already to implant.
00:50:45 Chips electronic chips in part of the brain of animals and there are some attempts with humans also.
00:50:52 So I don't know if it will be about.
00:50:57 Memory but it could be for other functions and basically we are very far from being cyborgs but I think.
00:51:07 The notion that we can sort of enhance
00:51:14 Some human capabilities in an artificial way it's on the table and it's something which is more and more considered
00:51:25 and I think it will be together with altering our genome
00:51:30 and the way we interact with the environment the genome of other creatures.
00:51:34 These are big ethical issues for humans not for the future for today and
00:51:43 and again I think it's dramatically important to have a perspective about where we come from.
00:51:52 And why we are here to basically be able to handle these questions.
00:51:56 Many of these questions that today are discussed like if you think on that like for example artificial procreation or the.
00:52:04 You know basically externalizing reproduction.
00:52:09 People think it's something completely you know crazy
00:52:14 and something that develops in post modern societies with people doing sort of crazy experiences.
00:52:24 Experiments and things like that. As a paleoanthropologist I have a different view.
00:52:30 I think it's just a continuation of things we have been doing for a long time already in the course of our evolution
00:52:36 ofcourse it is very spectacular it is very extreme but somehow if you if you think on that especially regarding reproduction.
00:52:47 Our reproduction as modern humans has been made possible because we created an artificial environment around
00:52:57 reproduction and when I say we created an artificial environment.
00:53:01 I'm not talking about medical progress in the twentieth century.
00:53:06 I'm talking about paleolithic times but basically the way.
00:53:12 I mean the possibility to have these so immature neonates
00:53:22 Surviving and developing all these cognitive skills and being maintained for twenty years before they become adults
00:53:33 and reproduce and be part of the society has been made possible only because with our big brain.
00:53:42 We created a technical environment and a social environment for that.
00:53:47 And so again what we see in modern societies is just like the continuation of this trend.
00:53:54 Now of course it's up to us to decide what is good or bad and how far I mean when I say good or bad.
00:54:00 I'm not talking about religious belief
00:54:02 but I'm talking about what is what could be counterproductive for us as a species. Could you tell me what are
00:54:13 the questions.
00:54:14 You are looking for answers for. The field I address has many questions and this is due to the fact that hominin
00:54:24 evolution covers several millions of years and we have a whole variety of species that existed during this time period
00:54:33 and there is one thing that is important to realize is that we know only a portion
00:54:38 and maybe only a small portion of these groups of hominins that existed in the past there are time periods
00:54:46 and regions for which we have no information at all
00:54:50 and that does not mean that there was nothing there just means we don't know.
00:54:55 So basically we have a pile of cut branches and we try to build a tree but we don't have all the branches
00:55:05 and so somehow the tree we build is not so accurate that we think it is. So that's one part of the story.
00:55:14 which is basically looking for fossils finding new hominins and completing this big puzzle.
00:55:24 Again remember that out of this complex bush today there is just one.
00:55:31 Branch that sticks out and gave birth to all species.
00:55:39 So beside that there are many questions about What are humans and how different they are from other creatures.
00:55:48 So in other words we have.
00:55:51 A part of the field which is not really looking at the past but is more looking at humans of.
00:56:00 Today and analyzing for example the differences that we can detect or study between apes
00:56:10 and humans we know that African apes and especially chimpanzees are very closely related to us.
00:56:20 And so somehow studying living primates is very important also and then after we identify
00:56:29 some key aspects of humans for example things about their of course their anatomy their big
00:56:39 brain. Their reduced .. things like that their diet. But also aspects of their social organization. Reproductive pattern
00:56:53 development pattern. psychology.
00:56:58 So then the game is to go into this tree that is I remind you an incomplete tree
00:57:05 and try to find out when these different features develop and why and how along these different branches
00:57:15 and what's emerging today is this picture that in fact all these branches somehow achieved a certain kind of humankind
00:57:27 somehow. But not completely like us and so they have some of these features not others.
00:57:34 And we are just at the beginning of understanding that and trying to decipher the complexity of this evolution
00:57:46 and recently what happened in the field is that we had a very fast development of paleogenetic studies.
00:57:57 And there is this other way to look at the past which is I would say a molecular way. Through D.N.A.
00:58:05 Also through ancient proteins now people study proteins and try to make philogeny
00:58:10 and all this molecular information provides us with all sorts of other
00:58:20 Information but also many new questions that we never envisioned before. What kind of questions.
00:58:28 Well so far paleogenetics has been mostly dealing with.
00:58:36 What we call philogeny which is basically the construction of the tree.
00:58:41 So how one group is related to another when was there a split point in the past.
00:58:49 Information about the demography were these groups large or small Did they suffer
00:58:57 demographic crashes bottlenecks for example.
00:59:03 And then we have discovered that the level of admixture between all these groups is more is higher
00:59:14 and more consistent than we think it was. Actually this is nothing proper to humans. Now that we are able to do.
00:59:26 High resolution sequencing of many many creatures we see that the history of species is intermixing a little bit.
00:59:37 It's common. it exists among primates among elephants among horses among carnivores everywhere.
00:59:45 Basically all species that were not separated for more than say five million years they can more
00:59:53 or less interbreed. There is one thing that paleogenetics and genetics.
01:00:00 So far it is not really able to address or start to question is what we call phenotypic expression.
01:00:11 So in other words when we find a difference in the genome.
01:00:15 What does it mean in terms of features. is it something. first of all we know that some differences have no
01:00:24 effect on the phenotype So it's nothing we can detect as a difference. in the meantime sometimes a small difference can
01:00:32 result in a major effect in the phenotype so among three billions and a half of nucleotides in D.N.A.
01:00:47 We know that some mutation that just changes one out of more than three billions can have a dramatic effect on how one
01:00:57 individual looks like
01:00:58 and so we are now at a stage where we know that a certain number of coding genes that are present in all modern
01:01:08 humans are absent in Neanderthals or other archaic humans
01:01:14 and conversely there are some versions of some genes which are not found in modern humans
01:01:20 but only on the Neanderthal What does it mean in terms of anatomy biology behavior our brain development whatever we don't
01:01:31 we don't know it's always frustrating
01:01:33 when you ask geneticists Oh you find this gene so what does it mean in general they say we don't know.
01:01:39 And we are. that's a field that is also developing now. people are trying to find ways to resolve that.
01:01:49 And there is a lot of work so I think they are going to manage in the near future to bring some questions.
01:02:00 Some answers. It's a great time to be what you are. Yes when I was when I was a Ph D student.
01:02:10 I was a bit depressed I mean that's probably the normal destiny of a Ph D.
01:02:14 Student I guess. but I had this feeling that I was born too late in a world too old
01:02:22 and that many issues about what I was interested in: Neanderthals homo erectus homo sapiens etc.
01:02:31 has been already investigated by very bright scientists. I could not be more wrong than that because in fact.
01:02:42 First of all.
01:02:45 Since I was a student there is a number of new groups of hominin that has been found. incredible. Second
01:02:53 There are many aspects of biology and behavior
01:02:59 of ancient hominins that we could not conceive to be accessible to scientific investigation.
01:03:08 So the methodologies been developing at an incredible speed.
01:03:14 So in other words what I'm saying is that probably I witness more progresses in my field since I was a student until
01:03:26 today than probably in the previous half century.
01:03:31 So I think it's a very exciting time
01:03:33 and I don't think there is reasons why this would stop you know I tell the young students scientist I say you know.
01:03:42 It's going to continue.
01:03:44 And of course there are some issues with the development of all these new methodologies because sometimes they are very
01:03:52 costly or very sophisticated even at a personal level they demand.
01:04:00 A lot of investment from the scientists in the way that in order to master these methodologies you have to
01:04:09 become very specialized. sometimes I fear that we are going to miss.
01:04:18 People who are more generally somehow. I see myself as a as a generalist it was always my problem.
01:04:28 I was interested in too many things varied.
01:04:34 Somehow it was a great chance that I was given this possibility to build up a department where I can
01:04:40 I can hire people who do all the things I will never do because I cannot do
01:04:46 Everything. But basically delegating all these projects to other people.
01:04:52 But again I think it's always important when you do science and when you study
01:05:00 and you are very good very expert in a narrow field. You can be the best.
01:05:08 But it is very important to step back and know understand.
01:05:12 What is the big picture and where your little piece of the puzzle fits into this big picture.
01:05:22 What are you afraid of. nothing.
01:05:28 You mean for my field for in general. is there something you can lay awake in bed about.
01:05:41 Not much in fact. Of course I am anxious about details I would say. Sometime we have a paper we want to publish.
01:05:53 It's very important to us and it fails for some reason yeah it's stressing
01:06:00 it's vexing. Or there are projects we would like to do and it does not work sometimes for.
01:06:10 I would say political reasons.
01:06:13 In the broad sense. interaction with others competition with other groups but
01:06:20 but in general these issues are much more I would say problematic for young scientists starting in the field.
01:06:31 For me I would say I suffer for them. But I don't take it personally too much at heart.
01:06:42 In fact the only thing I fear is not working anymore. Basically getting retired and not being able to.
01:06:57 To do what I'm doing every day and I think this is not a very original fear.
01:07:02 But I think it's a fear that many scientists have and.
01:07:08 Clearly the day I won't have any more capability to develop all these projects to follow them to support students
01:07:19 or young scientist.
01:07:21 It's a great thing to be able to work every day with young people who have a lot of great ideas and basically to say well.
01:07:29 Let's do it and help them to do it.
01:07:32 So yeah this day yeah I fear it a little bit. During history
01:07:40 Paleoanthropology has been misused also as a.
01:07:44 Particularly idealistically. Sorry. Through ideologies. Yeah from an ideological point. How do you see that.
01:07:56 Yeah I think the field is strongly influenced by the ideology of the time 'Zeitgeist' or also by the
01:08:16 Sometimes by political power by I would say nationalism for example.
01:08:24 So there are many stories about how people have been biased in the way they interpreted the archaeological evidence
01:08:35 in particular based on nationalist issues and so.
01:08:44 I would say rarely I mean speaking about paleolithical archeology it is not true for archaeology of more recent periods
01:08:53 but speaking about paleolithic archeology. There are a few examples where we can say there is a major misuse of the field.
01:09:03 I see more this as a I would say a pollution of the scientific speech by conceptions which are nonscientific.
01:09:18 And I think we have to live with that somehow we have to accept it we have to
01:09:26 but the way to live with that is to be aware of this.
01:09:30 I think a common mistake today is to think that this was true in the nineteenth century or the.
01:09:37 The beginning of the twentieth century but that today you know we we are.
01:09:44 Good scientists and we are freed from all these things. I think we are not more free today than we were a century ago
01:09:51 and I see that every day. In what way do you see that. Well I see that there are I would say there are fashions. In the field.
01:10:01 Even for example the way hominins are represented.
01:10:07 We are often asked to provide pictures of this ancient world and we easily make fun of the reconstructions that were made a century ago.
01:10:23 Somehow I think our representations today are also sort of funny. If you go to the Neanderthal museum.
01:10:36 In .. or near Dusseldorf they have a reconstruction of a Neanderthal with a suit and a tie.
01:10:43 Which is watching at the visitors.
01:10:48 I think this is the expression of a conception that we have today of how we want to think of the Neanderthals like
01:11:00 other humans just like modern humans almost.
01:11:05 But I think it's as wrong as the representation of a Neanderthal like a gorilla that escaped from a zoo. I think so.
01:11:13 We sort of add on this material I would say a philosophical or ideological conception that we have today.
01:11:26 Now what is clear is that if you think on the past.
01:11:33 If you think especially in the twentieth century you also see how I would say political situations could influence the
01:11:47 field. when colonialism was something common. It had an impact on the field and the way.
01:11:56 People saw human evolution. for example for a long period Europe was seen as the center of human evolution.
01:12:06 Just because Europe was the center of the world
01:12:09 and so it was difficult to think that modern humans of today did not originate from Europe
01:12:16 and there are models in the first half of the twentieth century.
01:12:20 Where in which all the groups of living humans of today Africans Inuit Europeans or Asians
01:12:31 would originate from different sides of Europe.
01:12:34 You know now we find it funny but people. even ridiculous
01:12:38 but people did not think this way in the 1930 or forty. Where did they originate from the humans.
01:12:48 Well the modern humans originated in Africa.
01:12:55 And they expanded out of Africa
01:12:57 and even after you say that you don't really always measure what it means. practically it means that modern humans
01:13:06 ancestral to us to modern Europeans
01:13:10 when they arrived in the middle latitudes of Eurasia say fifty to forty thousand years ago they were probably black
01:13:21 guys you know and they changed their phenotype to adapt to the local conditions. OK.
01:13:28 Or I better say their phenotype changed to adapt to the local conditions so. And even today.
01:13:39 There are groups of scientists who are not very comfortable with the African origins of modern humans for example if you
01:13:49 look at the Chinese literature in the field it is very easy to detect that especially if you move back.
01:14:02 Not very far in time you see that there is a discomfort with African modern origins and.
01:14:16 There is a long tradition of seeing the human evolution in Asia as a distinct process of what has been going on in
01:14:29 other continents Europe or Africa
01:14:33 and so that the idea is that basically modern Chinese would originate in older hominins in China and.
01:14:45 then that could go back to homo erectus in China. And so in other words I have difficulty.
01:14:53 Difficulties thinking that this is not somehow stained by some form of nationalism.
01:15:01 So this idea that humans to start with the genius homo.
01:15:12 Originated in one place or another it's something which has been very popular but which is far from being demonstrated.
01:15:22 But now if you go today in South Africa or in Ethiopia or in Kenya or in Tanzania people will take your hand
01:15:31 and take you to the cradle of humankind somewhere so there are several cradles competing one with the other.
01:15:39 Well I don't know maybe there is no cradle maybe it's a much larger region.
01:15:46 Now for modern humans this notion that modern humans originated in a what has been called sometimes a Garden of Eden
01:15:55 by the way you see the connection with the Biblical mythology
01:16:01 Has been always very popular since this notion of African origin developed
01:16:09 and so this garden has been seen in different parts of sub-Saharan Africa where I'm not sure that the reality of the
01:16:19 data really confirms that
01:16:22 but the origin of modern humans has been always a topic where I would say political ideological nationalist issues have
01:16:37 been involved somehow. So before.
01:16:45 Before the Second World War there was this idea that modern humans originated in Europe.
01:16:53 And then during the Nazi regime there were even archaeologists that tried to prove that modern humans emerged in Germania.
01:17:02 You know and they Well they got some support from the Nazi regime to demonstrate that.
01:17:10 And today we see all these debates about where are the oldest modern humans it's still there.
01:17:19 And so people fight about different parts of Africa
01:17:23 or there are some people who think maybe it's in Asia that modern humans emerged
01:17:29 and again I think it's very difficult to think that you are not influenced by your direct environment because
01:17:39 first of all
01:17:40 you are more prone to advocate for origin in the places that you know where you have been studying different
01:17:50 sites and fossils and etc. In the end I think I see science as a Darwinian process. So there are many wrong ideas.
01:18:00 Even if sometimes they are very popular. It's not a very democratic activity
01:18:05 So the history of science is full of popular
01:18:09 ideas that have been proven to be wrong even if they were supported by a large number of people
01:18:16 but sometimes they have been falsified by minorities or even single individuals.
01:18:21 And so there is this sort of Darwinian process that basically allows this renewal of ideas.
01:18:34 One difficulty with paleoanthropology is that there is something that is often missing which is replication of the results
01:18:47 and I think a key aspect of modern science is replicability So if you if you produce any result it should be replicated
01:19:02 by others to be confirmed.
01:19:05 It's not always possible in archaeology
01:19:07 or in paleoanthropology. why because there are fields which are basically built up around sites.
01:19:19 So a place somewhere on earth and objects. and in general.
01:19:25 These sites or these objects they are controlled by individuals or groups or countries and so
01:19:34 when a good story has been elaborated around an object or a site and that this good story is somehow.
01:19:47 Very supportive for a individual or a group or a nation this individual this group
01:19:53 or this nation they are not going to be very willing to let other people come and check if it's true or not
01:20:02 So it takes a long time in the field of paleoanthropology sometimes to falsify
01:20:11 results. And
01:20:15 when it happens sometimes it's a bit sort of scandalous. We are just publishing a paper that's going to come out Friday.
01:20:24 I can speak about it because this recording
01:20:27 Will not be on air before but we have been asked by a museum to redate.
01:20:35 A fossil that has been studied by others
01:20:39 and this fossil has been published in major journals as an hybrid of Neanderthals and modern humans
01:20:47 and by redating this material we found that first of all it's very recent and it cannot be
01:20:53 a hybrid of Neanderthal and modern humans. B. that other fragments of humans that have been found around are not human.
01:21:00 In fact. And finally investigating the D.N.A. of these things we found out that it's certainly not.
01:21:09 a hybrid of Neanderthals and modern humans but a recent human probably of neolithic time.
01:21:17 But I predict that the publication of this paper is going to be not well taken.
01:21:23 Not just by the people who published the first study but I'm not sure that in general the field likes that. So.
01:21:33 Somehow it's always difficult to be the one who somehow creates some kind of little scandal about a nice story
01:21:46 that has been around for a while. You are always looking into the fossils into the ground but you also like to discover.
01:21:58 The orbit. The stars.
01:22:03 Oh by the way I've been interested in astronomy when I was I was kid al so I even still have a telescope a good one
01:22:14 In my basement. But. No I never considered making a profession of. Of something like that.
01:22:24 I've been interested in other things. First of all in my own field.
01:22:31 I think in another life I would like to do other things that I couldn't do in this one.
01:22:38 But outside of the scientific field I think I would have been very interested in another type of creation like
01:22:51 architecture or art. I'm very impressed by artists. I was a couple of days ago I was in Paris and I had a chance to.
01:23:05 Have dinner with. First of all to attend a presentation and have dinner with Anish Kapoor.
01:23:13 He's a very famous English Indian.
01:23:18 Sculptor and
01:23:21 and I'm always impressed by the way artists are able to explore the reality of things in a very different way than scientists
01:23:35 but. I have another question also Julian Huxley describes that through humans the universe is becoming conscious of itself
01:23:44 because of our brains. We're now creating a kind of mind of the universe. Can you elaborate a bit on that.
01:23:51 Well I think I tend to think on humans as a sort of collective brain and.
01:24:06 Probably what is most impressive about humans is that humans as individuals they are very sort of weak
01:24:15 and limited creatures. It is difficult to think on a human like a very dangerous creature for nature
01:24:22 or other animals but humans have been throughout their evolution able to create social groups
01:24:33 and then networks of social groups and networks that were always more extended and
01:24:40 and today we have this sort of almost collective intelligence of humans which is something that.
01:24:50 We do every day that to me.
01:24:54 Still is amazing is the fact that
01:24:56 when you miss some information you can sort of find it almost instantly in the collective brain of all humans of ours
01:25:05 you go on internet and.
01:25:08 I won't say the word but you you know type a certain name and you'll get all sorts of information about that.
01:25:18 And so this this capability to put in relation the intelligence and.
01:25:26 And memory of all humans is absolutely fascinating and goes much beyond information or.
01:25:37 Basically recording of anything.
01:25:42 It's also the capability that humans have to add expertise in a way that they can produce amazing results.
01:25:54 So somehow the main difference between us I mean when I say us I mean modern humans of today and
01:26:05 A Neanderthal
01:26:05 or an other hominin is that probably most of these people were able to do everything they needed to do to
01:26:17 make their life possible.
01:26:19 And of course for us it's completely different
01:26:23 and almost every single object that are around me not just objects many services
01:26:30 and functions in the modern societies are made possible by the addition of the expertise of many many people. So the
01:26:40 example which is often given is a cellular phone basically nobody would be able to build a cell phone
01:26:47 but by adding many many people who are able to conceive and to produce all the parts of a cellular phone
01:26:54 and the software and everything we have this amazing object.
01:26:58 So this notion that humans they represent a sort of network of memory and conscience.
01:27:07 Today is quite striking with especially the internet
01:27:12 and interconnection of many individuals is not a completely new idea somehow because you know if you moved back in the
01:27:23 nineteenth century. You had people who. Today it seems a bit strange but we may think of that.
01:27:36 Who separated in nature a vegetal reign a animal reign and a human reign
01:27:44 and just yesterday I was reading a chapter of a book by De Quatrefages who is a very famous naturalist.
01:27:55 Just after the French Revolution and De Quatrefages developed in this book this notion of human reign.
01:28:04 And his argument is exactly this one is the notion that humans they have acquired.
01:28:12 Something that the rest of nature does not have is this self consciousness
01:28:19 And so especially if you see humans as a big network is the sort of self consciousness of the universe itself
01:28:27 somehow at least the living creatures on one planet. What I found a paradox is that and I'm a bit torn by that
01:28:37 somehow of course humans are absolutely unique.
01:28:44 In many aspects but in the meantime we know how they root in the living world
01:28:52 and we know that they root very close to apes like chimpanzees and bonobos
01:28:59 and so in other words I think this notion that of course the notion of human reign is kind of ridiculous because we
01:29:09 belong to the animal reign of course. it's not just that we belong to the animal world actually we are some kind of
01:29:17 bizarre apes very close from one species of other apes the chimpanzee
01:29:24 and a species which is further away from things like orangutans or gibbons or things like that.
01:29:35 So we tend to develop this notion of exceptionalism of.
01:29:41 Of humans but to some extent it's true of course with living humans with modern humans
01:29:49 and I mentioned many aspects that make them absolutely unique in the history of life.
01:30:00 In the meantime I think we have to be careful not to project
01:30:04 or extend this notion of exceptionalism into the past because if we move into the past.
01:30:14 Hominins that lived a hundred, two hundred, five hundred thousand years ago.
01:30:20 I think they were just like another species of mammals on earth and they are something a bit unusual.
01:30:29 Carnivorous predatory apes able to run after animals and catch them eat them. But in terms of.
01:30:43 Simply in terms of numbers there was nothing remarkable nothing really visible in the landscape I would say.
01:30:52 And if you think for example on the competition between humans and carnivores
01:30:58 There are places on earth where obviously humans sort of.
01:31:02 Succeeded in this competition but there are other places where it's not so obvious for a long time
01:31:10 and so for example we think that the development of human groups. Say before half a million year ago in Europe.
01:31:21 Was probably somehow limited by the reach and dangerous variety
01:31:31 of large carnivores existing in this part of the planet and so
01:31:37 it took us some time to take over the situation so.
01:31:43 Again I think we should refrain ourselves from projecting in the past.
01:31:49 What humans are today or how we want to see us today.
01:31:53 I think this is a main problem. it has been always a problem in paleoanthropology. Somehow
01:32:00 Even people working on hominins living two million years ago or more wanted to see them like a version
01:32:09 A little bit more primitive of modern humans but running around in the savanna having villages
01:32:15 and meeting every night to tell stories to each other which I think it's a fantasy.
01:32:24 Last question you are in the art. Our series is in archetypes. Every episode is an archetype. You are in The Conqueror.
01:32:33 Does that fit well? Well you mean. A conqueror. I can interpret that two ways. One way is
01:32:45 As an individual and another way is regarding my topic of research. So as an individual.
01:32:59 I have been always a rather ambitious person I think
01:33:03 and I my first years on earth were very challenging in many ways and I could not have survived I had a difficult start.
01:33:20 And I was poor.
01:33:25 And so I was a immigrant I was a refugee
01:33:30 and I had these kind of I think retrospectively I can see that I had this sort of rage of.
01:33:41 You know managing doing well in life and being successful in reaching my goals and.
01:33:51 Even from a material point of view to be you know on the safe side I would say. So yeah a conqueror my mother would
01:34:00 Like that probably. if she would hear that. Now if you think of my topic my main topic of interest.
01:34:13 Certainly you can see the evolution of humans as a sort of epics. Epic Story of a conquest of the planet by a species.
01:34:28 I try to keep a cool brain somehow about that because this is something you find a lot in the literature
01:34:35 in the also in the popular literature the T.V.
01:34:40 Documentaries in films and I think it's a sort of retrospective way we have to tell the story.
01:34:51 And it meets this this storytelling which is so popular about the mythology of our
01:35:02 Species the mythology of our human societies and modern societies. I think somehow humans have been driven into these.
01:35:16 Ecological niche. First completely by chance I would say and the fact is that we are lucky to be humans and not to be.
01:35:29 Endangered species on Earth but.
01:35:34 We have to remember that many other hominins humans existed on earth and they are not here anymore.
01:35:42 And so that should maybe give us a certain level of modesty
01:35:49 or maybe you know it's a sort of warning that we have to be careful because species are mortal
01:36:00 And evolution is mostly about extinction.
01:36:05 So it's nice that we have this level of consciousness that allows us to speak about it and to analyze a lot of things
01:36:13 but so let's be wise somehow. So we have been conquerors by accident but let's be wise men now.
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