Meeting Abstract

S4-11  Sunday, Jan. 5 14:30 - 15:00  The centrality of grandmothers in human evolution HAWKES, K; University of Utah

When RA Fisher, PB Medawar, GC Williams, and WD Hamilton laid the foundations of evolutionary life history theory, they recognized elements of what became a grandmother hypothesis for the evolution of human longevity. Only subsequent study of modern hunter-gatherers, great apes, and the wider mammalian radiation revealed strong regularities in development and behavior that identify additional unexpected effects that grandmothering likely had on human evolution. Now ancestral grandmothering is a serious contender to help explain not only, 1) the large fraction of post-fertile years women live, but also 2) the pair bonding habits that distinguish humans from our closest living evolutionary cousins, the great apes (and most other mammals), 3) our big human brain and large neocortex, 4) our socially precocious babies’ active engagement with others, and 5) our preoccupation with reputations, shared intentionality and persistent cultural learning, which 6) underpin the diversity of our cultural lives, and even 7) that particular human distinction: language. Ancestral grandmothers’ contribution to the ancestry of subsequent generations likely contributed to an astonishing array of features that make us human.