Many Peaks Range and Magnetic Island

My very first impression of Townsville’s landscape, thirty years ago, was of dead-flat land interrupted by peculiarly isolated hills and ranges, and it has only been reinforced over the years by views and events.

The views? Getting to know the topography from the top of Castle Hill, Mt Stuart or (most recently) Mt Marlow on the Town Common reveals a coastal landscape of mangrove flats rising (minimally) to the suburbs which wrap around the bases of the hills, with Ross River, Ross Creek and the Bohle River winding lazily through them.

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Where did we come from?

Where Did We Come From? is the title of a book written by Carl Zimmer in the wake of the discovery of the “hobbits” of Flores fifteen years ago. It was a very good popular introduction to human evolution.

According to Zimmer, our African ancestors parted company with the ancestors of chimpanzees and bonobos six or seven million years ago to begin developing an upright posture, tool use and, perhaps most importantly, language.

Our own species, Homo sapiens, evolved about 200,000 years ago and began spreading out of Africa 130,000 years ago, through Europe, Asia, Australia and, eventually, America. We lived alongside closely related species until comparatively recent times. Neanderthals reached Europe before we did and coexisted with us there until 28,000 years ago, if not later. The ‘hobbits’ of Flores, by far the most spectacular recent discovery in the field, survived as recently as 18,000 years ago, well after Homo sapiens had migrated through South Asia and the islands to Australia.

Given the pace of discovery in the field, Zimmer’s book is now somewhat outdated. This collection of recent articles introduces research which adds depth and complexity to Zimmer’s account without changing its broad outlines. I have assembled them here in evolutionary order. Continue reading “Where did we come from?”