3 Origins of Homininae and Putative Selection Pressures Acting on the Early Hominins

  • Bogusław Pawłowski
Reference work entry


One of the biggest mysteries of human evolution is the divergence of the hominin lineage from the other hominoids. In this chapter, I will address the problem of the selective forces that could have been behind hominin emergence and that shaped this evolutionary lineage in its early stages. To establish the selection pressures that led to hominin emergence, the following issues will be discussed: (1) The time when the human–chimpanzee split could have taken place according to paleoanthropological and molecular data. (2) The putative traits of the last common ancestor (LCA) of hominins and extant hominoids. We can only construct models for the LCA on the basis of the very fragmentary fossils of the earliest hominins (ErH) and the behavioral ecology of extant apes. (3) The environment in which the ErH lived and could have been exposed to some specific selection pressures. (4) The hypotheses for the selection pressures for bipedality (SPfB), which is the main diagnostic trait of the hominin clade. Some arguments for and against suggested SPfB according to different hypotheses will be presented. (5) The putative selection pressures related to the dental features of ErH. A much more difficult task is inferring behavior (including the social structure) of ErH. Since the fossils of the earliest hominins are so scarce, we try to infer their behavior on the basis of some features of Australopithecus afarensis, i.e., their overall body size, sexual dimorphism in body size, and sexual dimorphism of canines. Finally, the future perspective (e.g., through closer integration of paleoanthropology and genetics) for establishing better the first appearance of derived hominin traits and determining more precisely the selection pressures that acted upon them is discussed.


Selection Pressure Sexual Dimorphism Late Miocene Bipedal Locomotion Genus Homo 
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  • Bogusław Pawłowski

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