Associate Professor John Compton, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Cape Town

How did we end up with over seven billion people straining the planet to its sustainable limit? This course will narrate the major events leading up to the present. Deep evolutionary history – starting with the Big Bang – is based on the integration of the latest evidence from fossil bones and stone tool artefacts, ancient DNA and past climates and landscapes. This evidence reveals the timing, places and possibly the reasons for events that led to our evolution. Climate and geography shaped many of our uniquely human features, as our ancestors made stone tools, ate diverse foods and took control of fire in order to survive in a highly unsettled, variable world. Did our species, Homo sapiens, originate in the southern coastal region of South Africa in groups, isolated and under pressure, eating seafood for the first time? Does the first appearance of symbolic artefacts at the far northern and southern tips of Africa indicate that these areas served as the initial engine rooms of our cultural evolution? How did farming and the Industrial Revolution give rise to the human superorganism and propel us to where we are today?



1. Big history: all life is one

2. Humans emerge out of an unsettled world

3. African cradle: Where and how did our species evolve?

4. Acquiring culture and going global

5. Success of the human superorganism: Can it last?

Recommended reading

Compton, J. 2016. Human Origins.


Date: 16–20 January                                                   .
Time: 1.00 pm
COURSE FEES Full: R480,00  Staff: R240,00  Reduced: R120,00