21 - Reconstructions reconsidered: chimpanzee models and human evolution  pp. 293-304

Reconstructions reconsidered: chimpanzee models and human evolution

By Adrienne Zihlman

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Until very recently, primatologists and paleoanthropologists did not agree on which apes, if any, were most relevant to reconstructing the common ape-human ancestor or how information was to be applied in speculating about human origins and the evolution of social behavior. Prior to the 1960s, little except anatomy was known of the great apes, but later, field observations and laboratory studies of cognition stimulated interest in ape models for hominid reconstructions. Fossil discoveries of extinct apes and early hominids multiplied, and molecular studies established the details of phylogenetic relationships among living primates. In the 1970s, information derived from laboratory and field research and from anatomical studies on the lesser-known pygmy chimpanzee (Pan paniscus) changed conceptions about the genus Pan and offered new ways to look at models for hominid origins. The combination of these different lines of evidence has led to a deeper and more complete understanding of the great apes and their relationship to human evolution.


Studies during the 1960s and 1970s of free-ranging primates, the growing fossil hominid record and molecular biology challenged previous notions about the evolutionary relationships of the apes and the timing of the apehominid divergence. These studies significantly influenced the development of physical anthropology over the next several decades.