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The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates

Understand the origins of humankind with this course that dispels the confusion surrounding the scientific evidence of human evolution.
Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 74.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learning to understand the fossil record Paleoanthropology was my focus in grad school in the early 70’s so I have some familiarity with the subject of ancient man. This course covers many discoveries (including DNA evidence that didn’t exist 50+ years ago). I really enjoyed Prof. Hawks’ presentation and his obvious knowledge and enthusiasm of a complex subject. I viewed this 24 part series on streaming and am looking forward to a repeat viewing in order to further absorb what he has to offer. Very highly recommended especially for those with some prior knowledge to draw upon.
Date published: 2024-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable overview of where we come from Professor Hawks makes a potentially dry subject a fascinating one. His explanations are clear and engaging. His delivery is quite enjoyable and informative. I would like to see more courses from professor Hawks.
Date published: 2023-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from extremely interesting I have not completed the lecture series yet, still have some excellent lectures to go. However I was struck by the description of the evolution of homo sapiens as being like a tree with branches and the debate as to which species of prehistoric homo or austrilopithecus were the predecessors on this branch. I was also struck that there were times when multiple species of homo were found in the same area contemporaneously. Given that we already know a percentage of modern homo sapiens sapiens have neandethal DNA and likely other types of DNA, I would think that it is quite likely that different species of homo may have had intergroup intimate relations resulting in mixtures of genotypes and phenotypes of offspring. Given this I think a better analogy of the evolution of homo sapiens may be more akin to a web with resultant strong thread emerging from the web In an immunology textbook that I am reading, they pointed out how HLA typing and haplotypes (immune response genomic clusters that provide support for both the innate and adaptive immune system) varies among different populations as a result of pathogen exposure, ethnic admixturing and drastic population reductions which can be brought on by pandemics, natural disasters etc... I wonder if similar elements may have been part of the eventual selection for homo sapiens
Date published: 2023-09-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Horrible. Neanderthal focused. I am writing a paper dealing with evolutionary medicine and thought I could something up. First the Neanderthals are the author's research, which aren't a direct ancestor, but are pretty much the focus. Hominins begin 7 million years ago with S. tchadensis, then Ardipithecus, and then Australopithecus. The author I can't find mentioning the first, and then pretty much denies the next two. Then he mostly focuses on Neanderthals and how all these archeologists are his friends. The courses from around 2002 are good but outdated. The course Anthroplogy and the Study of Humanity is much better and recent.
Date published: 2022-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This guy was good and has the credentials. Quite a conglomeration of a lot. I very little about this but know much more. This is really comlprehensive & not sure I know enuff to review well enuff. But still enjoyed and now know a lot more. When u go back millions of years to now That’s a lot and he did it plus explations
Date published: 2022-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course! I've reviewed this excellent, broad, and in-depth course twice. I enjoy Professor Hawks' teaching style, which takes the form of a debate between however many opposing interpretations there are of the data under review. His method benefits the student by telling us not only what the facts are, but also by showing us how professionals in his field thoughtfully process the findings. Thus, in this course, one learns about the important paleoanthropological discoveries made over the centuries and decades of field-work, along with their typically contentious ramifications, and how the professionals reason their way through the issues. Learning how paleoanthropologists think is as interesting to me as learning about the facts themselves. In other words, Professor Hawks teaches the 'what' as well as the 'how' of his field of expertise. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2022-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course on the Evolution of Mankind This course provided me with a greater insight into how we evolved. I have a much greater understanding of why I am what I am today. I have an appreciation of how we all fit together, how we all belong together.
Date published: 2022-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eye opening Fascinating topic very well presented. I was a little lost on some of the science but that did not disappoint. Worth a second listen.
Date published: 2022-04-15
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Delivered by expert paleoanthropologist and Professor John Hawks, the 24 lectures of The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates bring you to the forefront of scientific arguments and questions that will become more important in the coming years. Surveying both the questions that continue to rile the world's greatest minds in anthropology and the cutting-edge science responsible for them, this course is an expert guide to wide-ranging debates over the most essential question we can ask: Where do we come from?


John Hawks

I really was interested in the broad scope of human evolution, and so I was studying things from the earliest known hominins up to the very recent evolution of our species.


University of Wisconsin–Madison
Dr. John Hawks is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has taught courses ranging from biological anthropology to brain evolution since 2002. He earned his B.S. in Anthropology from Kansas State University and M.S. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Early in his career, Dr. Hawks focused on fossil and archaeological evidence for human evolution. But as the Human Genome Project was completed, he became one of the first paleoanthropologists to use both genetic and fossil information to test hypotheses about human prehistory. More recently, his work on Neandertals has broken new ground, and his prediction that humans and Neandertals likely interbred has been confirmed by the analysis of Neandertal DNA. He is the author of groundbreaking research papers, and he has a devoted following on his science blog, where readers can follow the latest news in paleoanthropology.

By This Professor

The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates
The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates


Ramapithecus—Ape Man

01: Ramapithecus—Ape Man

There’s no better illustration of scientific debates over the rise of humans than the story of how Ramapithecus was cast out of our ancestry. In this first lecture, witness how fossil evidence and molecular evidence—working both together and independently—can help explain some of anthropology’s most complex issues.

34 min
Australopithecus afarensis—Ancestor or Not?

02: Australopithecus afarensis—Ancestor or Not?

One of the most famous scientific debates in anthropology took place in the 1970s, with the discovery of fossil remains of a possible Homo ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis. Where exactly did Homo come from? Follow this highly public story from the perspective of the key personalities involved: scientists Don Johanson and Richard Leakey.

32 min
Ardipithecus—Hominin or Not?

03: Ardipithecus—Hominin or Not?

In 1994, paleontologists discovered the 4.4-million-year-old remains of Ardipithecus ramidus. Is it a true hominin? What skeletal features suggest the tradeoffs between being an effective climber and walking bipedally? Answer these and other questions by closely examining the fossil and genetic evidence of this fascinating “ground ape.”

32 min
Brain Structure versus Brain Size

04: Brain Structure versus Brain Size

Your brain separates you more from apes than any other anatomical feature. Investigate the gradual increase in hominid brain size in the fossil record. Looking at what fossil skulls (such as the Taung skull) reveal about blood circulation and cooling, you’ll shed new light on brain size and skull structure.

32 min
The Dietary Hypothesis

05: The Dietary Hypothesis

Explore the relationship between diet and morphology in this lecture on Australopithecus robustus and Australopithecus africanus. The teeth and jaws of these two species, you’ll discover, offer intriguing windows into the fierce debate surrounding the dietary hypothesis and the true adaptive differences between robust and gracile hominids.

34 min
Africa or Asia?

06: Africa or Asia?

Was Africa or Asia more central to human origins? How can we tell? Drawing on the ideas and theories of prominent scientists, including Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, and Louis Leakey, learn how we found the truth about where our genus Homo came from—and where it evolved.

33 min
An Ape’s View of the Oldowan

07: An Ape’s View of the Oldowan

Tool use marks a tremendously important step in evolution. But how important is it really, considering chimpanzees can also make and use tools? Professor Martin offers you a detailed picture of what early stone toolmakers were like, as well as some of the primitive tools found in parts of Africa.

33 min
Who Was Homo habilis?

08: Who Was Homo habilis?

Examine what the fossil record reveals about Homo habilis, a species that serves as a transitional marker between Australopithecines and the rest of the genus Homo. A key mystery in this lecture: how Homo habilis can have the anatomy to be our ancestor yet not exist at the right time in evolutionary history.

33 min
How Big Was Homo erectus?

09: How Big Was Homo erectus?

Using a magnificent find of the skeleton of a 1.5-million-year-old boy (known as the Nariokotome skeleton), delve into the issue of how important size was to becoming human. Recent discoveries of Homo erectus remains, as you’ll discover, have led to a reevaluation of the growth process of these hunters and gatherers.

32 min
The Movius Line

10: The Movius Line

Professor Hawks explains the complexities of the Movius Line, a fairly clear line that separates the Western distribution of hand axes from areas in the East where they were rarely made. Central to this constant puzzler in the story of evolution are the more than 500,000-year-old remains of the Peking Man.

32 min
The Hobbits of Flores

11: The Hobbits of Flores

The identity of Homo floresiensis, a species of small-brained humans that averaged a height of 3.5 feet, is the most burning debate in paleoanthropology. Investigate the origins of these mysterious “hobbits” and whether they represented a new species of human or were merely the remains of abnormally developed modern humans.

33 min
Archaeology and Cooperation

12: Archaeology and Cooperation

Explore what archaeology tells us about cooperation and compassion in prehistoric people with this insightful lecture. Professor Hawks reveals how archaeological remains and other kinds of evidence offer intriguing clues about how prehistoric people worked together to make tools, hunt animals, share meals, and even take care of their injured.

32 min
Presapiens or Preneandertal?

13: Presapiens or Preneandertal?

Working with the European fossil record, examine the debate over whether Neandertals were our true ancestors, or simply a much less specialized population. Along the way, you’ll comb through remains from Spanish caves in Atapuerca and encounter the notorious evolutionary forgery known as the Piltdown Man.

32 min
What Do Stone Tools Reveal about Early Man?

14: What Do Stone Tools Reveal about Early Man?

French archaeologist Francois Bordes interpreted variations in stone tool remains as evidence of different groups of people who existed in the past. American archaeologist Lewis Binford, however, believed these variations reflected different activities. Who was right? Find out in this lecture on the way scientists interpret the archaeological record.

32 min
Did Neandertals Speak?

15: Did Neandertals Speak?

How important was language to shaping human evolution? Discover the answer to this question by studying the skeletal remains of Neandertals discovered in the late 20th century. Learn how anthropologists, with the help of a specific bone and a key language gene, determined that Neandertals could—contrary to earlier beliefs—talk.

31 min
Neandertals—Extinct or Ancestors?

16: Neandertals—Extinct or Ancestors?

Follow along as scientists examine Neandertal genes to determine just how close our ties are to this primitive species, which disappeared about 30,000 years ago. What scientists found when the entire genome sequence of Neandertals was reconstructed in 2010—and what it reveals about the true fate of Neandertals—may surprise you.

32 min
Is Our Neandertal Heritage Important?

17: Is Our Neandertal Heritage Important?

Are there behaviors we can trace back to our Neandertal heritage by closely studying mitochondrial DNA? If so, what’s useful? What isn’t? It’s a debate nearly as old as anthropology itself—and Professor Hawks’s explanation of how it works forms the subject of this provocative and insightful lecture.

33 min
Multiregional Evolution versus Out of Africa

18: Multiregional Evolution versus Out of Africa

Did modern humans emerge from Africa? Or did they evolve in regions around the world? These two competing questions became the most persistent debate in anthropology in the late 20th century. Consider evidence for either scenario and learn how scientists reached their current understanding of the dispersal of modern humans.

32 min
Climate’s Impact on Our Evolution

19: Climate’s Impact on Our Evolution

Investigate the important role of climate change events—specifically the catastrophic eruption of Mount Toba around 74,000 years ago—in shaping the rise of man. Did this event cause a population crash among prehistoric humans, finishing off some populations and paving the way for the spread of modern humanity?

31 min
Language—Adaptation or Spandrel?

20: Language—Adaptation or Spandrel?

For decades, scientists debated over whether language was a target of natural selection in evolution or merely a side effect. Blending anthropology and linguistics, Professor Hawks helps you make sense of what Charles Darwin, Noam Chomsky, and others had to say about evolution’s role in the development of human language.

33 min
Why Did Humans Start Creating Art?

21: Why Did Humans Start Creating Art?

Is prehistoric art just a side-effect of our intelligence, or is it somehow fundamental to our cultural abilities? Explore this perplexing question by closely examining beads, utilitarian tools, decorative objects, rock art, and other primitive art forms unearthed at archaeological sites in Europe, Africa, and Australia.

30 min
Clovis or Pre-Clovis?

22: Clovis or Pre-Clovis?

Professor Hawks discusses the continuing debate over the arrival of humans in the New World. Some anthropologists believe that the Clovis culture was the first to spread south across North America about 12,000 years ago. Others believe there may have been even earlier migrations to the Americas.

32 min
Farming—Migration or Diffusion?

23: Farming—Migration or Diffusion?

In this lecture, investigate the relationship between agriculture and the spread of early human societies throughout Europe. Central to this is the argument over whether agriculture spread through population movements into widespread areas, or whether adjacent populations simply adopted farming practices (as well as new languages) without mass migration.

31 min
Are Humans Still Evolving?

24: Are Humans Still Evolving?

To conclude the course, Professor Hawks addresses some of 21st-century anthropology’s most important questions. Are we still evolving? Is human evolution slowing down or speeding up? What are we going to look like in the future? And is it possible for us to actually bring evolution under our control?

35 min