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Journal Article

Tropical forests in the deep human past


Scerri,  Eleanor M. L.
Lise Meitner Pan-African Evolution Research Group, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;


Roberts,  Patrick
isoTROPIC, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Scerri, E. M. L., Roberts, P., Maezumi, S. Y., & Malhi, Y. (2022). Tropical forests in the deep human past. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 377(1849): 2020.0500. doi:10.1098/rstb.2020.0500.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-213D-D
Since Darwin, studies of human evolution have tended to give primacy to open ‘savannah’ environments as the ecological cradle of our lineage, with dense tropical forests cast as hostile, unfavourable frontiers. These perceptions continue to shape both the geographical context of fieldwork as well as dominant narratives concerning hominin evolution. This paradigm persists despite new, ground-breaking research highlighting the role of tropical forests in the human story. For example, novel research in Africa's rainforests has uncovered archaeological sites dating back into the Pleistocene; genetic studies have revealed very deep human roots in Central and West Africa and in the tropics of Asia and the Pacific; an unprecedented number of coexistent hominin species have now been documented, including Homo erectus, the ‘Hobbit’ (Homo floresiensis), Homo luzonensis, Denisovans, and Homo sapiens. Some of the earliest members of our own species to reach South Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania and the tropical Americas have shown an unexpected rapidity in their adaptation to even some of the more ‘extreme’ tropical settings. This includes the early human manipulation of species and even habitats. This volume builds on these currently disparate threads and, for the first time, draws together a group of interdisciplinary, agenda-setting papers that firmly places a broader spectrum of tropical environments at the heart of the deep human past