Professor Rebecca Ackermann, Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town

Many of the things taken for granted in life – the ability to pick up a pen carefully, walk or jog long distances, or even watch colour presentations – are the legacy of both our primate origins and the unique adaptations that have evolved in humanity’s lineage on the substrate of this ‘primateness’. This course will introduce humans as primates and explore how natural selection has acted to shape four key characteristics of humans: our three-dimensional colour vision, our unique bipedal locomotion, our large and complex brains, and our colourful, hairless and very sweaty skin. The emergence of these traits will be contextualised within our understanding of primate and human origins and evolution in Africa and beyond.



1. Humans as primates      

2. Vision   

3. Bipedalism         

4. Brains   

5. Skin     


Recommended reading

Ackermann, R.R., Mackay, A. & Arnold, M.L. 2016. The Hybrid Origin of ‘‘Modern’’ Humans. Evol Biol 43: 1.

Jablonski, N.G. Nina G. 2004. The evolution of human skin and skin color. Annual Review of Anthropology 33:1, 585-623.

Jacobs,G.H. and Nathans, J. 2009. Color Vision: How Our Eyes Reflect Primate Evolution: Analyses of primate visual pigments show that our color vision evolved in an unusual way and that the brain is more adaptable than generally thought. Scientific American Monday, March 16, 20.

Park MS, Nguyen AD, Aryan HE, U HS, Levy ML, Semendeferi K. 2007. Evolution of the human brain: changing brain size and the fossil record. Neurosurgery 60: 555–562. DOI:10.1227/01.NEU.0000249284.54137.32

Wong, K. 2018. Last Hominin Standing: Why did Homo sapiens alone survive to the modern era? Scientific American, September, 319, 64-69. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0918-64



Date: 14 – 18 January 
Time: 9.15 am
COURSE FEES Full: R550,00  Staff and Students R275,00
Venue: LT2 Kramer Law Building UCT