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evolution, science

Ardi and the Beginnings of Human Monogamy

National Geographic has an interesting article concerning the puzzle of Ardi.  If you’re not familiar with Ardi, it’s a member of the long extinct species Ardipithecus ramidus, and dates to around a million years before the now famous Lucy fossil.  What’s puzzling to scientists is that Ardi is bipedal before pre-humans are supposed to be bipedal.  According to the most prominent theories, our ancestors became bipedal when they moved from the forest to the Savannah, but the discovery of a forest dwelling biped is causing much consternation and excitement among researchers.

Owen Lovejoy, of Kent State University, has a theory.  Perhaps Ardi discovered sex as a commodity.  Trading food for sex might be appealing to females if it was done by “lesser” males who didn’t have the power to simply defeat all rivals and “take” his conquest.  Lesser males might figure out ways to bring more food to females and ply them with gifts instead of brute force.  If females developed such a preference, it’s not hard to imagine that males with two free hands for carrying groceries would have an advantage over those who were still hoofing it on four and only able to sacrifice one arm for carrying things.  Could this have been the beginning of monogamous pair bonds in prehumans?  After all, a year’s worth of groceries might be damn appealing to a female when compared with thirty seconds of a prickly penis…

Lovejoy thinks this scenario could also explain the origins of concealed ovulation, since it would allow females to reap the benefits of good providers and alpha males at the same time.  From reading this article, it appears that he believes concealed ovulation is crucial to the theory.

Before anyone starts shouting at me that this is all conjecture — yes.  I know it’s conjecture, and it appears that Lovejoy knows it too.  But this isn’t blind conjecture.  If this theory turns out to be true, it will line up with a lot of the predictions made by evolutionary theory regarding the math behind sexual competition, and it might be the answer to a question that has puzzled us for a long time.  Why do humans experience concealed ovulation?

Right now, there’s no evidence to support the theory, and there might never be any.  However, this is a good example of using what we know to try to predict what we don’t know.  It’s cutting edge scientific inquiry, and it’s going to be damn exciting, regardless of whether Lovejoy’s ideas pan out.  The beauty of it is that as evidence is collected, either his theory will bear out, or it will get tossed aside, and someone will examine the new data from a scientific perspective and come up with a new hypothesis.

So no, you can’t go out and say that this is probably what happened, and it would be premature to start making up theories based on this one being true.  We don’t want to overstep our bounds.  However, it’ll be fun to keep an eye on this line of thinking.

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Discussion

6 thoughts on “Ardi and the Beginnings of Human Monogamy

  1. Interesting choice of words. That’s a hypothesis, not a theory.

    Posted by Marcin Druzdzel | October 12, 2009, 4:08 pm
  2. Yeah, yeah. It is an hypothesis, too. 🙂

    Posted by hambydammit | October 12, 2009, 5:22 pm
  3. And don’t forget that a bunch of asswipes who don’t really believe in evolution anyway “hypothesize” that Ardi proves marriage is between a man and a woman. No homo!

    Posted by G Felis | October 12, 2009, 5:58 pm
  4. I put two really hilarious links in that and they didn’t work. (Do you have html turned off in comments?) Here are the links, without which my comment makes no sense whatsoever:

    http://www.frcblog.com/2009/10/how-long-has-marriage-been-the-union-of-a-man-and-a-woman-scientists-say%E2%80%944-4-million-years/

    http://www.feministing.com/archives/018275.html

    Posted by G Felis | October 12, 2009, 6:00 pm
  5. I know it’s an old post, but this is where it’s relevant and I figured you have some notification for all comments, so…

    Check out this very nicely done bit of criticism of both Lovejoy’s hypothesis – which you treated with appropriate tentativeness and skepticism, I might add – and of the sexist ways the press talked about it:
    http://scienceblogs.com/primatediaries/2009/10/male_chauvinist_chimps_or_the.php

    Posted by G Felis | October 30, 2009, 4:46 pm
  6. Thanks, G. Yes, I do get notification for all comments, and I agree that’s a lovely bit of criticism.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 30, 2009, 5:50 pm

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