“Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?”
When it is a slow news day, the news agencies usually find a new story about human evolution. Another such article appeared recently in the New York Times. It concerned research into chimpanzees living in the Fongoli savanna of Senegal.
The exemplary research involved an extensive survey of chimp urine. While this might sound unpleasant, the researchers were looking for three specific chemicals. The presence of c-peptide would indicate if the animals were getting enough energy from their food, the protein creatinine indicates if the chimps are regularly getting dehydrated, and the hormone cortisol is produced if the creatures are stressed.
Research showed that, while the chimps clearly had enough food, they were often dehydrated and under stress. The chimps presented behavior that was significantly different from chimps that lived in forests, where water and shade were more abundant.
This much is interesting and useful research. However, some of the researchers go further and suggest that these conditions must be similar to what our chimp-like ancestors experienced two million years ago in the savannas of East Africa. They claim that the stress these hominins experienced would have caused them to sweat more and to walk upright, thus developing into modern humans. The New York Times article suggested that these hominins may have started walking upright to get fruit from trees, thus alleviating some of their stress.
It is a shame that such careful research should be spoiled by fairy-tale evolutionary conclusions that do not do justice to the observations made.