Apes, Hominins, and the Scientific Evidence for Human Origins

Kieran McNulty

University of Minnesota

The subject of human origins has been a focus of curiosity and imagination since well before Darwin, and very likely since our ancestors first became sapient. This talk will review the current scientific evidence documenting the nature and timing of human origins: from the split with the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees to the earliest members of our species, Homo sapiens. The rich fossil record of anatomical innovation in the hominin lineage is supported by archaeological evidence of cultural advancement, neontological and prehistoric genetic analyses, and comparative ethological studies of non-human primates. Altogether, this evidence for the evolutionary accretion of “human” characteristics provides a strong basis for exploring – from a variety of scientific, philosophical, and theological perspectives – a more fundamental question: what does it mean to be human?

Kieran P. McNulty is a professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, where he was awarded the McKnight Land-Grant Fellowship in 2008 and named Scholar of the College in 2017. His principal interests are in the evolution of apes and humans, pursued simultaneously through laboratory research and paleontological fieldwork, and his work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Wenner-Gren Foundation, and Leakey Foundation. Kieran is Associate Editor of Paleoanthropology for the flagship journal American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and a member of the American Association of Biological Anthropologists, Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists, and Society of Catholic Scientists. Kieran was honored by the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis with a Leading with Faith award, and recently named a Heritage Champion by the National Museums of Kenya. He is also the founder and treasurer of Friends of KMMA-CAITHS, a charitable organization dedicated to promoting education, health, and sanitation among the rural poor of western Kenya. Kieran received his AB from Dartmouth College and his PhD from the City University of New York as part of the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology.

This talk is part of the conference “The Origin of Life and Nature Before Sin: Scientific and Theological Perspectives”, which took place at the Angelicum on 1-2 April 2022. Click here to download the conference brochure.