Thoughts on the Textbook

Essentials of Physical Anthropology

Jurmain, Kilgor, Trevathan, Bartelink

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright May 2018


These are thoughts that come to me as I work through the text book

Chapters Three and Four -- The Biological Basis of Life and Heredity and Evolution

My thought on this is that the authors are giving too much praise to DNA. They are treating it as a king, with proteins being its peasants. An alternative way to look at DNA is as the librarian that proteins consult when they decide what to create.

That said... another thought that comes to mind is how unusual it is in nature to have just one way of doing things. How come there doesn't seem to be any viable alternative to the system of DNA holding information while proteins use that information to create the structures that make up organic life. By comparison, there are viruses, bacteria (prokaryotes) and more complex organisms (eukaryotes) that make up tens of thousands of variants on living structures... but all are based on the single chemical system of using DNA plus proteins to create those many life structures. It seems odd that there is just one system that has reached this level of life creation. This sure makes this system seem special.

Further thought along this line... the current system seems real complicated. Was there a protosystem of some sort that was simpler and could then evolve into the current system? What was reproducing in the primordial pre-life ocean? Are there any "fossils" of this protosystem that can be discovered today?

In fact, the more I read, the more amazing and low probability creating the current life chemistry we live with seems to be. Wow! Again, what were the simple origin systems happening in the primordial soup that later evolved into what we live with today?

Further thought: If there really is only one chemical system that can create reproducible and mutatible life, this can explain why intelligent life seems to be so scarce in the galaxy. This is an answer to Fermi's Paradox.


One of the mysteries of behavioral evolution is the yawn.

o Why do primates and some carnivore species indulge in it?

o Why is it contagious, as in, if a member of a yawning species sees another animal yawn, same species or not, there is an impulse felt to also yawn.

o What is the evolutionary benefit that is sustaining this action?

Lots of mystery surrounding this activity.


As I'm reading I'm wondering if there is any way to use the fossil record to indicate how language skill was evolving. As I have written elsewhere strong language skill is just as important as tool use in helping homo sapiens thrive and be a successful species. And the two harmonize, language skill lets the tools get used better and tools make language skill more valuable.

With this in mind, I wonder if there is a way of using the tool fossil record to map the rise of language skill? This would be something like, "If these people have mastered tool X, they have mastered skill Y in using language." A specific example would be what kind of language skill did early humans have to master to teach their children how to build and use an atlatl? (The spear throwing tool. Note that inventing it in the first place would not depend on language skill.)



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