What is human uniqueness, and how did it contribute to what we could now call behavioral modernity? How did it develop? And what implications does it have for understanding our present and future? This past February the Origins Project that I direct at Arizona State University helped to convene an interesting meeting of paleontologists, anthropologists, primatologists, evolutionary biologists, geneticists, archaeologists and psychologists to attempt to address such questions, among others.
I began the meeting by pointing out that when some people heard about its subject, they had asked me what was so unique about humans? Surely all animals are unique in their own way, and although we have special traits, so do bees and giraffes. But as my A.S.U. colleague Kim Hill has put it, “Even before the invention of agriculture, human communities may have eventually numbered around 70 million individuals … as Homo sapiens spread over the planet more broadly than any other large vertebrate. No creature on earth lives in cohesive social units that rival this complexity or biomass.”