Allen S. Maller

How humans became biologically gentler

Although, based on the news media, it is difficult to believe that Homo Sapiens has become biologically gentler, an apparent reduction in testosterone about 50-60,000 years ago, lead to human personalities becoming gentler and human faces becoming more feminine, according to a study based on measurements of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls. This led people to have gentler personalities and to great advances in art and tool making.

The new study, published in the Augest 2014 issue of the journal Current Anthropology, found that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming.

The study’s lead author Robert Cieri said: The modern human behaviors of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament resulting from having a little less testosterone in action

Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in, and those changes can be traced directly to testosterone levels acting on the skeleton, according to Duke University anthropologist Steven Churchill, who supervised Cieri’s work.

What the bones do not reveal, according to a report in The Telegraph 8/3/14, is whether humans had less testosterone in circulation, or fewer receptors for the hormone.

In a study of Siberian foxes, animals that were less wary and less aggressive toward humans took on a different, more juvenile appearance and behavior after several generations of selective breeding.

Dr Hare of Duke University, who also studies differences between our closest living ape relatives, aggressive chimpanzees and mellow bonobos, said chimps and bonobos develop differently, and they respond to “social stress” differently.

Chimpanzee males experience a strong rise in testosterone during puberty, but bonobos do not. When stressed, the bonobos don’t produce more testosterone, as chimps do, but they do produce more cortisol, the stress hormone. Thus their social interactions are profoundly different; and their faces are different, too.

Cieri compared the brow ridge, facial shape and interior volume of 13 modern human skulls older than 80,000 years, 41 skulls from 10,000 to 38,000 years ago, and a global sample of 1,367 twentieth century skulls from 30 different ethnic populations.

The trend that emerged was toward a reduction in the brow ridge and a shortening of the upper face, traits which generally reflect a reduction in the action of testosterone.

There are a lot of theories about why, after 150,000 years of Homo Sapiens (HS) existence, humans suddenly leapt forward in religious activities and technology.

Around 40-70,000 years ago, there is widespread evidence of bone and antler tools, heat-treated and flaked flint, projectile weapons, grindstones, fishing and birding equipment, and ritual burials with grave goods.

A significant increase in religious activities in the many millennia prior to that time may have lead to increased numbers of people who were able to live together in a band or clan without splitting apart.

Small groups that lack a religious incest taboo will be plagued by the ills of inbreeding; therefore groups with a religious taboo on incest that leads to exogamy in mating will be selected for.

As ancestor worship strengthens kinship ties over more and more generations, it also expands kinship ties over more nomadic bands creating extensive clans and tribes. These clans and tribes can gather periodically at a special place to exchange future mates.

They also started exchanging/trading for desirable objects not found in their usual local. Seashells, obsidian, red ocher and other materials have been found in campsites and graves more than 100-200 miles away from their closest source.

The stronger the attraction of a special place, the greater the effort that distant clans will make to attend, so gathering spots that are turned into sacred sites of pilgrimage through special seasonal rites will enrich human communities.

There are scholars who think that HS advanced trade networks helped them out compete Homo Neanderthals in Europe.

The need for all the clans to show up about the same time leads to fixed seasonal holy days and a religious calendar. The need to mark time for pilgrimage festivals led people to study the cycle of the moon and the movement of the constellations and thus move some of the spirit powers into the sky.

Pilgrimage festivals still have major economic impact and serve in most religions as great sources of religious experience and solidarity.

In small groups moral values can be based on utilitarian principles like do to others as you want them to do to you, or what goes around comes around.

But in larger more complex societies with diverse classes and castes it may be more effective to root ethics in transcendent terms since there are not enough repeat interactions between individuals to validate utilitarian morality.

As tribes became larger and villages grew, a judge who rewarded good people and punished evil people helped the community to instill its norms in its members.

With the exception of a sociopath, the intelligent minds of HS also have a conscious, self-evaluating, purpose driven aspect that needs to be satisfied because groups with a higher percentage of these kinds of minds were more stable and more effective.

Guilt arises from many activities and needs to be atoned for. Self-discipline provides many advantages for an individual’s survival and success.

Most people, and all societies, need the structure of rules, community and divine discipline to maintain self-control. Hunters needed to kill animals, yet they obviously felt ambivalent about it because almost all human societies have rules either about offering some of the kill to the spirit of the animal killed, or a taboo on killing or eating certain animals.

There are much fewer rules relating to eating plants. Spilling blood intentionally is fraught with spiritual ambivalence and tension that needs to be dealt with.

Sex is also never simply a natural act for HS. The mind is always involved. It is not just chance that the first thing HS becomes self-aware of in the Garden of Eden is the shame of being naked.

HS is the only living species that thinks it must clothe itself. Evidence of textiles from more than 24,000 years ago has been found in the cold climates of ice age Europe.

However, the origins of clothing in Africa are the not the result of ice age climate but the result of concepts of modesty. Self-aware intelligent minds became moral minds, which became modest minds. Recent DNA studies of body lice that must lay their eggs in clothing, show that these lice evolved from pubic lice that adapted to clothing that covered the pubic area.

This genetic adaptation took place 60-100,000 years ago. Thus, HS have been clothing themselves for at least 60-70,000 years. Long before rules about property became important, religious rules of probity were important.

The authors of the study mentioned above argue that living together and cooperating put a premium on agreeableness and lowered aggression and that, in turn, led to changed faces and more cultural exchange.

I maintain that religious developments helped make that transition possible and effective by enabling larger and larger bands of humans to live and co-operate together .

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.