In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Human Evolution

  • Introduction
  • Syntheses
  • History
  • Historiography
  • Journals

Anthropology Human Evolution
Jonathan Marks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0011


The changes from Miocene ape to modern person, over several million years, make up the subject matter of human evolution. These changes involve skeletal modifications accompanying bipedalism and, later, manual dexterity and brain expansion; life-history modifications, accompanying prolonged periods of immaturity and maturity; social modifications, accompanying the development of family and kinship and the concomitant obligations of marriage and fatherhood; ecological modifications, accompanying the creation and exploitation of a niche for a technology- and language-reliant species; and genetic modifications. Some of these changes are directly recoverable paleontologically (for example, the anatomy of fossil pelves), some are directly recoverable archaeologically (for example, the development of stone tools), and some are not directly recoverable at all, and can be only inferred (for example, symbolic communication).


The story of human evolution begins with interpretations of anatomical and geological information and ends with discussions of cultural diffusion and artistic meaning. This reflects the development of the human condition, as a transition from biological evolution to biocultural evolution (Plummer 2004, Clark 2008). The major general textbook in human evolution is Klein 2009. Cartmill and Smith 2009 is somewhat stronger biologically and proportionately weaker archaeologically. Broader in scope, to encompass the biological place of humans within the primate order, are Martin 1990, Conroy and Pontzer 2012, and Fleagle 1999.

  • Cartmill, Matt, and Smith, Fred 2009. The human lineage. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

    An insightful and critical overview of the human fossil record.

  • Clark, G. 2008. Neandertal archaeology—implications for our origins. In American Anthropologist 104:50–67.

    DOI: 10.1525/aa.2002.104.1.50

    Critically examines the significance of contemporary Upper Paleolithic research.

  • Conroy, Glenn, and Pontzer, Herman. 2012. Reconstructing human origins. 3d ed. New York: W. W. Norton.

    A broad survey of paleoanthropology, incorporating both theory and data.

  • Fleagle, John G. 1999. Primate adaptation and evolution. 2nd ed. Waltham, MA: Academic/Elsevier.

    A classic text on primate biology, copiously illustrated. A new edition is anticipated soon.

  • Klein, Richard. 2009. The human career. 3d ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    Newest edition of a classic text on the human fossil record.

  • Martin, Robert. 1990. Primate origins and evolution: A phylogenetic reconstruction. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    An original and comprehensive synthetic treatment of primate biology.

  • Plummer, Thomas. 2004. Flaked stones and old bones: Biological and cultural evolution at the dawn of technology. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 47:118–164.

    DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.20157

    Reviews the earliest evidence for tool use in the human fossil record, and its implications.

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