Technology boom 50,000 years ago correlated with apparent reduction in testosterone.
© Robert Cieri, University of Utah
A composite image shows the facial differences between an ancient modern human with heavy brows and a large upper face and the more recent modern human who has rounder features and a much less prominent brow. The prominence of these features can be directly traced to the influence of the hormone testosterone.
Modern humans appear in the fossil record about 200,000 years ago, but it was only about 50,000 years ago that making art and advanced tools became widespread.
A new study appearing Aug. 1 in the journal Current Anthropology
finds that human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels at around the same time that culture was blossoming.
"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," said lead author Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah who began this work as a senior at Duke University.
The study, which is based on measurements of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls, makes the argument that human society advanced when people started being nicer to each other, which entails 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 anthropologist Steven Churchill, who supervised Cieri's work on a senior honors thesis that grew to become this 24-page journal article three years later.
What they can't tell from the bones is whether these humans had less testosterone in circulation, or fewer receptors for the hormone.
The research team also included Duke animal cognition researchers Brian Hare and Jingzhi Tan, who say this argument is in line with what has been established in non-human species.