Predicting the Past: Filling in the Gaps of the Palaeontological Record

Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group
Jeroen Smaers
Entertaining Room, Darwin College
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - 13:15 to 14:00

How do we reconstruct the evolutionary past of things that do not fossilize? Can we find out how ‘intelligent’ ancestral primates were simply by looking at contemporary variation? Can we reconstruct when exactly the foundations of human intelligence were built in our primate evolutionary history?
Phylogenetic comparative methods of ancestral reconstruction allow us to map characters onto the ancestral nodes of a family tree based only on contemporary variation. This allows a unique view into our evolutionary past, surpassing what can be inferred from the palaeontological record. This talk will explore different ways of modelling our evolutionary history giving us insight into the timing of crucial evolutionary events and the tempo of evolution of variables associated with human and primate ‘intelligence’.

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