What makes us human? Answers from evolutionary anthropology


  • James M. Calcagno,

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    • James M. Calcagno is Professor of Anthropology and Fellowship Office Director at Loyola University Chicago. His research interests in biological anthropology have ranged from mechanisms of dental reduction to captive primate behavior. In 2009 and 2011, he co-organized Wiley-Blackwell AAPA symposia directly relating to the question “What Makes Us Human?”

  • Agustín Fuentes

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    • Agustín Fuentes is Professor of Anthropology at University of Notre Dame. His current research includes cooperation and community in human evolution, ethnoprimatology and multispecies anthropology, evolutionary theory, and interdisciplinary approaches to human nature(s). Recent books include Evolution of Human BehaviorBiological Anthropology: Concepts and Connections, and Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths About Human Nature.

  • With contributions by: Matt Cartmill, Kaye Brown, Katherine S. Pollard, Robert Sussman, Robert M. Seyfarth, Dorothy L. Cheney, Benjamin Campbell, Sarah Hrdy, Kristen Hawkes, Karen R. Rosenberg, Mary C. Stiner, Steven L. Kuhn, and Ken Weiss


Today, scholars from numerous and highly diverse fields are not only addressing the question of what makes us human, but also seeking input from other disciplines to inform their answers to this fundamental issue. However, for the most part, evolutionary anthropologists are not particularly prominent in this discussion, or at least not acknowledged to be. Why is this the case? One reason may be that although evolutionary anthropologists are uniquely positioned to provide valuable insight on this subject, the responses from any one of us are likely to be as different as the research specializations and intellectual experiences that we bring to the table. Indeed, one would anticipate that a paleoanthropologist would not only have different views than a primatologist, geneticist, or behavioral ecologist, but from other paleoanthropologists as well. Yet if asked by a theologian, psychologist, or political scientist, and perhaps most importantly, by any curious person outside the walls of academia, do we have a response that most evolutionary anthropologists could agree on as reflecting our contributions to the understanding of being and becoming human? Our introductory textbooks usually begin with this fundamental question, yet seldom produce a concise answer. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.