More Than Monkeys—But How Much More?
Who are you? In all likelihood, you can’t answer that question without recalling some key experiences in your life, a few things you picked up from friends, and a good number of traits you inherited from your parents. Our past defines us in powerful ways, but the further back we go, the more difficult it becomes to sort out exactly how. As Canada Research Chair in Human Evolutionary Studies, Dr. Mark Collard works to understand what we were in the distant past, and how it relates to who we are today. His work gets to the heart of a very important question: who are we? It’s a question made all the more important by recent advances in science, such as the sequencing of the chimpanzee genome, which led to the discovery that only four per cent of our genes are different from theirs. Collard’s work goes beyond genetics, examining anthropology, archaeology, biology, economics, linguistics, psychology and even medicine—all in search of an explanation for why we think and behave the way we do. His research will have three key parts. First, he’ll improve methods to identify and understand fossil hominin species (including our pre-human ancestors). Second, using techniques from evolutionary biology, he’ll study how cultures evolve. Finally, he’ll investigate how climate change may have spurred on evolution. His research will be helped by funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation for a new Morphometrics and Phylogenetics Laboratory at Simon Fraser University. We know from our own lives that similar problems to those we face today have often been faced by earlier generations. Just as we’ve learned from their experiences, we may also be able to learn a lot from the more distant past by understanding how cultures evolve and adapt, and how evolution has helped turn us into the people we are today.