Human Evolution Seminar 2008

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Walking Upright: The cost of human evolution

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The Seminar Paper

  • Download the seminar paper here
  • Download the seminar questions here
  • If you would like to ask a question about the seminar paper please click here. Questions will be answered at the seminar. 

Links to your school programmes

NCEA Level 3 Achievement Standards linking to this seminar:

  • AS 90717  Describe processes and patterns of evolution
  • AS 90719 Describe trends in human evolution

Key Concepts from Level 3 Biology that link to this seminar:

Below are selected objectives from the Y13 biology programme that link tothis seminar.
You should review these concepts before the seminar.

Processes and Patterns of Evolution Please remember these are only the objectives linking to this seminar—refer to your unit hand out at school for a full list

  • Define the term species and ways in which speciation occurs
  • Define gene and allele frequency, speciation, gene flow, genetic equilibrium.
  • Identify sources of genetic variation and agents of change that lead to change in a gene pool.
  • Define the terms genetic drift, founder effect and bottleneck effect.
  • Explain the role of natural selection in speciation
  • Describe patterns of evolution: convergent, divergent (incl. adaptive radiation), co-evolution, and the speed of evolutionary change i.e. punctuated equilibrium, gradualism.

Trends in Human Evolution Please remember these are only the objectives linking to this seminar—refer to your unit hand out at school for a full list

  • Define the hominin lineage and describe the characteristics of major species in that lineage
  • Describe trends in biological evolution of the hominins with respect to:''skeletal changes linked to bipedalism;changes in skull and endocranial features;changes in manipulative ability of the hand
  • Describe trends in cultural evolution of the hominins with respect to use of tools, fire, shelter, clothing, abstract thought (communication, language, art), food-gathering, and domestication of plants and animals.
  • Describe patterns of dispersal of hominins (multiregional and replacement hypotheses) and the evidence supporting these hypotheses.
  • Describe recent developments in interpretations on the origins and trends of human evolution based on current scientific evidence which is widely accepted and presented in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Challenge Questions

Answer either question 1 OR question 2
The extensive fossil record has provided definitive evidence for a sequence of events that began with human ancestors first walking upright, then developing larger brains, tool use and manufacture, and a rich and varied material culture. Human bipedalism is one of the most unusual forms of locomotion to have evolved in the animal kingdom and presents multiple biomechanical challenges. Despite obvious disadvantages of bipedalism for our hominin forebears like the greater difficulty of young learning to walk, humans have successfully capitalized on these newfound abilities to the extent that the evolution of bipedalism is arguably the most important adaptation in the early part of human evolution.

  1. Discuss the evolutionary relationship between bipedalism, development of increased brain size, long periods of childhood and high fat levels at birth.


  1. Bipedalism and an increase in brain size are key features that have contributed to the evolution of the hominin lineage, leading to the success of Homo sapiens. Discuss the relationship between adaptive advantage, adaptive cost, and trade offs in the process of human evolution.

Discuss this  You are encouraged to discuss possible these questions on thediscussion page.

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