Darwin Publishes on Human Origins
Amid these ambiguous developments, Darwin decided to say something about human origins. In 1871 he
published The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, in which he argued that all
of the known evidence was consistent with humans having evolved from a common ancestor shared with
apes. He speculated that Africa was their place of origin and that human ancestors had gradually
taken on their current form since then. He suggested that natural selection was not the only evolutionary
pressure at work. Women might have preferred different traits in men, what Darwin called
sexual selection, and this
might have given rise to differences between the races. Darwins ideas did not persuade his old
correspondent, Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace decided that our oversized brains were far more powerful
than necessarywe could easily survive with minds slightly more advanced than an apes.
The creation of humans must, he concluded, be the work of divine intervention.
More Human Fossils Discovered
Fossils would be crucial to resolving this debate, but they
were slow in coming. It was not until 1886 that Neanderthal fossils were discovered for a second timeand
this time, they included the jaw and other parts of the skeleton. Found in Spy, Belgium, these clearly came
from ancient rocks, demonstrating that Neanderthals were not some barbarian tribe that lived a few centuries
ago. The next year, Eugene Dubois (left), a young anatomist from Holland traveled to Indonesia
in the hopes of finding fossils of early man. Since orangutans lived there, and since Dubois managed to
secure a job as a medical officer in the Royal Dutch East Indies Army, it seemed like a good place for him
to go prospecting. After four years of struggles, he hit pay dirt when he dug a pit in the side of the Solo
River in eastern Java. He found fossil remains of something not quite human, but not quite ape. It stood
upright, but its brain was far too small to qualify as human. It became known as Pithecanthropus erectus,
meaning upright ape-man.