"The Animal Connection," a new book by Pat Shipman, a Penn State paleoanthropologist, presents the groundbreaking new idea that humans' connection to other animal species may be the driving force behind the last 2.6 million years of human evolution. Reviewers have hailed the book, calling it "a work of extraordinarily broad scholarship" and saying that "animal lovers and readers who are interested in human psychology will not be able to put this fascinating book down."
Shipman argues that the human connection with animals is unique, noting that animals have served as livestock, as transportation for people and goods, and as treasured pets throughout human history. "No other mammals rear and support the young of other species like we do. You won't see elephants rearing hippos, or raccoons raising squirrels," she said. "This connection also is deeply psychological. Whether you are a pet lover or not, as a human you share something that is deep and visceral with other animals."
Scientists who study the evolution of humans have identified three unique behaviors that distinguish early humans from other mammals: tool making, language, and the domestication of other species. These three evolutionary developments often are studied in isolation, as if each one arose independently. Now, Shipman argues, "The animal connection is a fourth, previously unrecognized human habit that links together the other uniquely human characteristics into a single evolutionary force."
Tool-making enabled our early ancestors to become effective hunters for the protein-rich foods that were crucial for the evolution of our larger brains. Shipman explains that tools let our ancestors directly compete with other predators, even though humans lack the sharp claws, strong teeth, and speed of most other carnivores. She has found evidence of this competition on some fossilized animal bones, where teeth marks made by carnivorous animals overlap cut marks made with
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