E V O L U T I O N A R Y    S C I E N T I S T 

 D O R I S   F.   J O N A S    1 9 1 6  -  2 0 0 2


This reamarkably interesting information about women in the field of evolutionary research
I have found on Dean Falk´s Homepage




"The classic literature in anthropology has been extremely male-biased when it comes to designating the primary movers and shakers of human evolution."


"Evolution boils down to who lives and who dies."


"The most inconvenient truth that is relevant to the roles of the sexes during hominin evolution goes back to the first paragraph in this section. In its essence, evolution depends on who lives and who dies."


"Early hominin women were thus, regarding their important nurturing and inventive language creating roles, the ones who facilitated the genetic legacy of Homo sapiens. In that sense, they were the mothers of us all."


Quoting Dean Falk:


Very few women receive credit for having pioneered research in the evolutionary sciences. For example, it is standard for contemporary biological anthropology textbooks to mention fossil collector Mary Anning (1799–1847) as the only token woman in chapters about the early development of evolutionary theory (e.g., see Jurmain, Kilgore, and Trevathan, 2011).


It is, therefore, an inspiration to learn of the life and career of Doris F. Jonas (1916–2002) who, along with her husband David, pioneered numerous approaches to evolutionary anthropology, psychology, and medicine (Winkler, 2012). (Lists of Doris and David Jonas’s many and varied publications are provided by Winkler [2012]).


Among other topics, Doris Jonas researched and wrote about the anthropology and evolution of aging, human sexual behavior, mental illness, growth and development, and language origins. With respect to the latter, her observations regarding the role of mother-infant bonding in language origins were especially prescient.

Doris Jonas obviously had a voracious intellectual curiosity about nature, which she pursued and wrote about without benefit of a formal education. It was only after she was recognized as a published scholar that Jonas earned an M.S. in social anthropology from the University of London in 1982, which she did without having first earned a bachelor’s degree (Winkler, 2012).


Doris Jonas balanced her avid intellectual interests with multiple marriages and having children. As Winkler notes, “Doris tried to lead the life of a typical housewife of the 50s.” At that time, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” (an iconic American television sitcom of the 1950s and 1960s) reflected society’s expectations for women—namely, that they be stay-at-home moms who derived their satisfaction from their husbands’ achievements and raising their children. They most certainly did not pursue intellectual interests or scholarly careers.


That Doris Jonas was prolific as a scholar and writer under these circumstances is remarkable. The fact that,
later in life,she felt more and more that her work had not been appreciated and that [former husband] David had passed off her ideas as his own (Winkler, 2012) is sad, but not surprising.


Clearly Doris Jonas was an extraordinary woman and evolutionary scientist. As an aside, it is interesting that another female scholar who was born less than two decades after Doris Jonas’s birth, world-renowned chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall (1934–), followed a similar trajectory of pursuing her intellectual interests in zoology and evolution, earning an advanced degree from a British university only after her published research was recognized and without benefit of first obtaining a bachelor’s degree (Ph.D., Cambridge University, 1965), experiencing multiple marriages, and having a child.


So aspiring female scientists everywhere should take inspiration from the likes of Doris Jonas and Jane Goodall. They pursued their intellectual interests relentlessly, engaged in a good deal of self-training followed by earning advanced degrees, and managed to have families. So, too, can you!


Jurmain, R., Kilgore, L., Trevathan, W. (2011): Essentials of Physical Anthropology, 8th edition. United States: Wadsworth CENGAGE Learning.


Winkler, P., 2012: Doris F. Jonas – Pionierin der evolutionären Anthropologie, Psychologie und Medizin – ein geschichtlicher Beitrag, in: Idiolekta – die Eigensprache in Forschung und Praxis 01/2012, Wurzburg, Huttenscher Verlag 507.




Quoting Dean Falk:


Animal breeders knew how to obtain lineages with desirable characteristics long before Charles Darwin formulated the theory of natural selection to explain how new species emerge from earlier ones. Taking a cue from animal husbandry, Darwin understood that the differences between current and future generations depend largely on which individuals reproduce, and which do not. At its most basic level, evolution is manifested in changed frequencies of characteristics as they are inherited from one generation to the next (microevolution).


For example, if 50% of one generation has blue eyes, but only 40% of the next generation does, then microevolution has occurred. Depending on geographical circumstances and time, the cumulative effects of generation-to-generation changes may result in the emergence of new species (macroevolution). In both cases, evolution boils down to who lives and who dies.


Genetic studies reveal that our closest nonhuman cousins are the chimpanzees, and that we are a little more distantly related to the other great apes (gorillas and orangutans). Numerous scientific studies also show that our direct ancestors (hominins) split from those of chimpanzees around five to seven million years ago.


Paleoanthropologists make educated guesses about what early hominins were like by studying the hominin fossil record, comparative anatomy, primate behavior, and the lifestyles of people living in non-industrialized societies.


The best guess is that our earliest hominin relatives lived in social communities in which males did some hunting and scavenging for meat, while females focused more on gathering plant foods. Paternity would not have been understood, and mothers and nursing infants would have been inseparable. Small groups of females and juveniles probably foraged together during the day, and reunited with the larger community before settling in trees to sleep at dusk.

But how do we get from this very apelike picture of early hominins to the Homo sapiens that we know and love today? Certain clues help to answer this question. We know that our ancestors became adept at walking on two legs, developed increasingly large and complex brains, invented a variety of tools, became crafty (some would say sneaky) in their social realtionships, and originated language.


Paleoanthropologists agree that all of these delopments profoundly influenced hominin evolution. Where they disagree, however, is on the identification of the sex that was chiefly responsible for the evolution of these advanced hominin traits.

The classic literature in anthropology has been extremely male-biased when it comes to designating the primary movers and shakers of human evolution.


Thus, males are hypothesized to have invented tools and language in conjunction with hunting (and, some would add, warfare). According to this man-the-hunter hypothesis, big brains were selected in males in conjunction with these activities, and brain size in women increased only because they rode on the gentic coattails of their betters. More nuanced social communication, with stronger male-male bonds, is also included as part of the hypothetical masculine evolutionary package.


Beginning in the 1970’s, it became widely acknowledged that foraging women in non-industrialized societies actually bring home most of the calories, which led to the woman-the-gatherer hypothesis. That hardly made a dent in the profession’s male bias, however. One researcher even suggests that walking upright was selected for in male hominins so that they could carry plant food that they (the men) had gathered to females, who were seen as too burdened with youngsters and too helpless to fend for themselves!


Inconvenient facts have not interfered with the man-the-hunter/gatherer/inventor hypothesis. For example, among higher primates documented to have invented new techniques or tools (great apes, Japanese macaques), it is usually (if not always) the females who do the initial inventing, and frequently juveniles who spread the inventions.


Similarly, the relatively recent human invention of Nicaraguan Sign Language for the deaf was carried out by children. The origin of language was crucial for human evolution, and extensive scientific evidence from multiple disciplines suggests that women and children initiated the invention of language, as detailed in Finding Our Tongues: Mothers, Infants & the Origins of Language.


But the most inconvenient truth that is relevant to the roles of the sexes during hominin evolution goes back to the first paragraph in this section. In its essence, evolution depends on who lives and who dies. The qualities selected for in future generations are determined by the babies who survive, grow up, and have their own babies. Now go back to our apelike picture of early hominins, in which mothers and nursing infants are inseparable and spend their days foraging in the company of other females and youngsters.


As is the case for living apes and humans in traditional societies, infant mortality would have been high. The hominin babies who charted the destiny of our species were the ones that lived. Somebody had to keep them alive, and that responsibility fell to their mothers.


Early hominin women were, thus, the ones who facilitated the genetic legacy of Homo sapiens. In that sense, they were the mothers of us all.



This late research by the two Swedish  zoologists Johan Lind and Patrik Lindenfors seem to underpin the findings of Jonas:

What determines the number of cultural traits present in chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) communities is poorly understood. In humans, theoretical models suggest that the frequency of cultural traits can be predicted by population size. In chimpanzees, however, females seem to have a particularly important role as cultural carriers. Female chimpanzees use tools more frequently than males. They also spend more time with their young, skewing the infants' potential for social learning towards their mothers. In Gombe, termite fishing has been shown to be transmitted from mother to offspring. Lastly, it is female chimpanzees that transfer between communities and thus have the possibility of bringing in novel cultural traits from other communities. From these observations we predicted that females are more important cultural carriers than males. Here we show that the reported number of cultural traits in chimpanzee communities correlates with the number of females in chimpanzee communities, but not with the number of males. Hence, our results suggest that females are the carriers of chimpanzee culture.



Vad är evolution och hur fungerar den?


Alla arter av djur och växter som finns eller har funnits på jorden har genomgått förändringar i sitt utseende eller beteende. Förändringarna har skett till följd av en process som kallas evolution. Evolution betyder utveckling. "Utveckling" innebär dock inte att organismerna nödvändigtvis blir "bättre" hela tiden utan bara mer välanpassad till miljön de lever i. Miljön, inklusive alla andra arter, förändras ju hela tiden så djuret eller växten måste göra det samma om den inte ska hamna på efterkälken i utvecklingen. Evolutionen slutar inte heller någonstans. Arterna blir aldrig perfekt anpassade utan man kan se evolutionen som en ständigt pågående kapprustning mellan arterna.


Vad krävs då för att en karaktär hos en art ska evolvera?

Jo, två saker:

— genetisk variation
— selektion.

Genetisk variation


Vi börjar med genetisk variation. I varje cell i kroppen finns långa molekyler som kallas DNA som sitter på ett antal kromosomer (hos människor 46 st). En gen är en liten del av dessa långa molekyler och fungerar som en mall eller ritning för hur ett protein ska vara uppbyggt. Hos exempelvis människa finns uppemot 50 000 gener. Proteinerna som generna skapar kan fungera som hormoner eller enzymer och därigenom påverka många olika egenskaper som t.ex. hårfärg, kroppsstorlek eller aggressivitet. DNA med alla gener ärvs från föräldrarna via ägg och spermier. En viktig sak med gener är att de ofta finns i olika former (alleler), både hos en enda individ (varje gen finns nämligen i två exemplar hos de flesta arter, en från modern och en från fadern), men framför allt hos olika individer i en population (grupp). Olika alleler ger upphov till lite olika proteiner. Det är bl.a. dessa skillnader som gör att alla individer av en art ser ut och beter sig lite olika.

Alltså: det finns genetisk variation i en population om det hos olika individer i populationen finns olika former (alleler) av en och samma gen.



Selektion, vad är då det? Selektion betyder urval och i evolutionssammanhang innebär det helt enkelt att vissa individer under sin livstid får fler ungar som överlever till vuxen ålder än andra. I naturen fungerar det så att individer med vissa speciella egenskaper får några fler ungar under sin livstid än individer med andra egenskaper. Denna typ av urval kallas naturligt urval (eller naturlig selektion). Anledningen till skillnader i antal ungar kan exempelvis vara att vissa individer...


• får friskare ungar som överlever bättre
• blir könsmogna tidigare och hinner med fler kullar innan de dör
• blir större och därmed får fler ungar i varje kull
• parar sig med fler av motsatt kön och får fler ungar

Ett slags kontrollerat urval sker i avel och växtförädling där man bara låter individer med önskvärda egenskaper bli föräldrar. (Detta för att på så sätt få "ungar" som är på ett visst sätt.)Alltså: selektion sker när olika individer av en art får olika många ungar under sin livstid.

Det var de två förutsättningarna.


Hur blir det evolution av detta?

Jo, eftersom ungarna ärver föräldrarnas genetiska egenskaper, t.ex. utseende eller beteende, kommer de också att uppvisa samma egenskaper som sina föräldrar. Sker det då samtidigt en selektion så att individer med vissa egenskaper (t.ex. som gör dem större) får fler ungar (som då också blir stora) kommer andelen individer med den egenskapen att öka från en generation till nästa. Medelstorleken kommer då att öka eftersom de stora får fler ungar som får fler ungar osv. Ett exempel såg du i bildserien tidigare.
Slutsats: evolution är en gradvis förändring av t.ex. utseendet eller beteendet (medelvärdet eller frekvensen av en karaktär) i en population från generation till generation. Den äger rum när det sker selektion på genetisk variation.


Hur kan en ny art uppstå?


Nu undrar du kanske hur evolution kan leda till att det uppstår nya arter. Tänk dig att en art är utspridd över ett visst område. Ibland händer det något som gör att individerna delar upp sig i två grupper, t.ex. att de koloniserat en ö eller att något nytt hinder uppstår som att kontinenter separeras eller bergskedjor uppstår. Då kan de två populationerna börja utvecklas i olika riktningar. Om tillräckligt många egenskaper till slut skiljer populationerna åt kan de inte längre få några ungar tillsammans utan är två olika arter. Som du kanske förstår är artbildning vanligtvis en mycket långsam process.




Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales

Sara Graça da Silva, Jamshid J. Tehrani


Ancient population expansions and dispersals often leave enduring signatures in the cultural traditions of their descendants, as well as in their genes and languages. The international folktale record has long been regarded as a rich context in which to explore these legacies. To date, investigations in this area have been complicated by a lack of historical data and the impact of more recent waves of diffusion. In this study, we introduce new methods for tackling these problems by applying comparative phylogenetic methods and autologistic modelling to analyse the relationships between folktales, population histories and geographical distances in Indo-European-speaking societies. We find strong correlations between the distributions of a number of folktales and phylogenetic, but not spatial, associations among populations that are consistent with vertical processes of cultural inheritance. Moreover, we show that these oral traditions probably originated long before the emergence of the literary record, and find evidence that one tale (‘The Smith and the Devil’) can be traced back to the Bronze Age. On a broader level, the kinds of stories told in ancestral societies can provide important insights into their culture, furnishing new perspectives on linguistic, genetic and archaeological reconstructions of human prehistory.


Read more about this kind of cultural evolutionary research here  »