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Who were our ancestors? How are apes and humans related? And where does the extinct Homo erectus fit into the puzzle? In this free course, Studying mammals: Food for thought, we will examine culture, tool use and social structure in both apes and humans to gain an understanding of where we come from and why we behave as we do. This is the tenth course in the Studying mammals series.
By the end of this free course you should be able to:
- describe features of apes, and features that distinguish Homo from apes;
- explain an evolutionary tree for hominines that shows one interpretation of the evolution of Homo from ape-like ancestors, australopithecines;
- use what is known about social group structure in living species of ape to suggest social group structure in extinct species;
- interpret features of apes, australopithecines, and Homo species in terms of adaptations;
- understand the roots of those features that make Homo sapiens different from other mammal species;
- discuss strategies for preservation of mammalian diversity and the related responsibilities of Homo sapiens living today.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 The apes and their relationship to humans
- 2 Variable structure of ape societies
- 3 Tool use and culture in ape and human societies
- 4 Who were the ancestors of Homo?
- 5 Who were the ancestors of Homo sapiens?
- 6 Modern Homo sapiens
- 7 The threat of extinction
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
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Studying mammals: Food for thought
In this unit, we will explore the fascinating question of who our ancestors were. I'll be looking at living species of apes in order to pick up clues about social structure and lifestyle in our ancestors and gain some understanding about why we humans behave as we do. I'll discuss tool use and culture in both ape and human societies, and look at two ancient species known only from their fossils – an australopithecine and Homo erectus.
This is the tenth in a series of units about studying mammals. To get the most from these units, you will need access to a copy of The Life of Mammals (2002) by David Attenborough, BBC Books (ISBN 0563534230), and The Life of Mammals (2002) on DVD, which contains the associated series of ten BBC TV programmes. OpenLearn unit S182_8 Studying mammals: life in the trees contains samples from the DVD set. You should begin each unit by watching the relevant TV programme on the DVD and reading the corresponding chapter in The Life of Mammals. You will be asked to rewatch specific sequences from the programme as you work through the unit.
This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Studying mammals (S182) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in.
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Natural History courses or view the range of currently available OU Natural History courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Wednesday, 8th June 2011
Last updated on: Monday, 15th October 2012
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
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