THE BASIC ASSIGNMENT:
Imagine that a friend of yours who has not studied human evolution says, “Tell me what you know about human evolution! How does evolution work, and how, specifically, did humans evolve?” Your job for this assignment is to answer them by producing a concise summary of what you’ve learned in this class that would allow this friend to understand many of the most important things about what evolution is and what we know about how humans evolved.
Below, I tell you what you should include. Your job is therefore to APPLY THE OUTINE I GIVE YOU BELOW, STEP-BY-STEP, and give the information asked for in each part in a clear, competent way.
I’m looking to see that you’ve mastered the basic material in this class and can convey a clear, accurate understanding of evolution, and specifically of human evolution, as it stands in contemporary anthropology.
This is your united assignment and final written answer assignment for unit 5, combined into one, 60 point, assignment.
THE OUTLINE TO USE FOR YOUR ANSWER:
This is an ambitious assignment. Of course, you should come out of this class knowing basic things about evolution and about human evolution and being able to communicate them: if you’re getting credit for a class on human evolution, you’d better know and be able to explain the basics of this topic!
The challenge for many of you comes in organizing your knowledge: identifying what’s important, and putting it together in a coherent way. Being thorough in this case means including the really vital information, but also not wasting your time/space on less important details. Since this is an introductory class, I’m offering you guidance and direction to get this task done.
Below is the outline I want you use to answer the question, showing what you need for a complete answer. This is what you will be graded on, so please use the outline to make sure your answer is complete:
I. Opening section explaining what biological evolution is and how it works.
a. Explain what “biological evolution” means. In other words, give a basic definition of the concept.
b. Discuss the idea of genes determining traits. Make sure to explain what genes actually are.
c. Discuss the ways genes in a population change over time. This discussion must include the following:
- A discussion of what genetic mutation is and how it contributes to these changes.
- A discussion of natural selection, how it works (all the steps!), and how it contributes to these changes.
- A mention of what genetic drift is and how it contributes to these changes.
(I don’t care if you mention gene flow.) Remember, your overall job here is to make the process of evolution clear to your friend in a very concise way.
II. Second section giving an overview of the evolution of humans starting from the earliest primates and going all the way through modern humans, focusing on the following:
a. Explain what primates are and what they have to do with understanding human evolution.
b. Explain what we know about how the clade of primates first evolved. This should include:
- When primates first evolved.
- The key human traits that first evolved in the earliest primates.
- Why those traits may have evolved in primates in the first place. (Either just pick the one hypothesis of primate origins that you find most convincing and just use that one, or find a way to very briefly describe the different hypotheses.)
c. Explain the origin of bipedalism. Include:
- Where and when do we find the earliest evidence of bipedal primates.
- Why bipedalism evolved in these primates. (Again, just pick your one favored hypothesis, or find a way to briefly explain the different hypotheses. Don’t include falsified hypotheses!)
d. Explain what we know about the evolution of early humans, focusing especially on Homo erectus. Include:
- Where, when, and from what ancestors did the first humans evolve, according to our fossil evidence.
- Where and when did Homo erectus evolve.
- What areas of the world did Homo erectus populations eventually occupy, according to the fossil evidence.
- The key basic traits of Homo erectus. (This is easiest to explain by comparing them to both their ancestors and to modern humans.)
- The “cooking hypothesis” explaining how Homo erectus evolved its basic traits.
e. Explain the currently most broadly accepted model of the origin and spread of modern humans, including details on:
- Location where modern humans first evolved.
- When modern humans first evolved.
- The basic evidence (fossil and genetic) that supports this model.
FORMATTING, LENGTH, and OTHER REQUIREMENTS:
- Double-space your answer.
- Your answer must be between 800-1200 words in length, not including titles, headers, etc. (This is generally between three and four pages. I wrote my own version and it was just under 1000 words.) Shorter OR longer answers will not receive full credit. (If your answer is too long your friend will get bored and wander away, depriving them of your knowledge.)
- Use complete sentences and organize your writing into paragraphs. Do not use bullet points or present your information as an outline. Use the outline to organize your writing, but actually present your writing in regular paragraphs.
- Present the information in the order used in the outline above. (But you do not need to label or title different sections.)
- If you use specialized terminology, make sure you explain what the terms mean. If not, your friend will be confused. (Also, I won’t be able to tell if you know what the term means!)
- DO NOT QUOTE FROM OR COPY DIRECTLY FROM ANY SOURCE. Write using your own words. Of course, do not plagiarize, but I also want you not to quote. I want to see that you can explain the ideas. Plagiarism of any kind will result in no credit for the assignment; use of quotations — even properly cited — will result in a significant reduction in your score.