Two Ways to Watch “Our Tribal Nature: Tribalism, Politics, and Evolution”

If you are in New York, the best way to join us for “Our Tribal Nature: Tribalism, Politics, and Evolution” is to purchase one of the few remaining tickets and watch it live at the Morgan Library. The reception is at 5 pm and the symposium begins at 6 pm.

If you can’t make it in person, you can watch via livestream on our YouTube channel or Facebook page!

Explore Human Behavior at “Our Tribal Nature: Tribalism, Politics, and Evolution”

At a moment when society feels dangerously polarized, fragmented, and unstable, “Our Tribal Nature: Tribalism, Politics, and Evolution,” a Leakey Foundation Survival Symposium offers a forum for understanding our human urge to form alliances.

Join us on September 19 at the Morgan Library in New York to examine the evolutionary origins and function of tribalism, our social transition from tribes to states, and the role tribal identity plays in our increasingly divided world.

This symposium will be hosted and moderated by Sebastian Junger, the New York Times bestselling author of Tribe, War, and The Perfect Storm.

  • Polly Wiessner will discuss why and how tribes form, the emotional and psychological impact of tribal culture on members, and how our tribal nature is evolving.
  • Alison Brooks will discuss archaeological evidence of the human behaviors that create large-scale social networks and communities, and the role such communities played in the evolution of modern humans.
  • Richard Wrangham will discuss the underlying psychology of human tribal behavior and explain why it is so distinct from that of other animals.
  • Mahzarin Banaji will discuss how our tribal nature operates within a broader social hierarchy.
  • Molly Crockett will discuss how tribal psychology influences the use and impact of social media.
  • Joshua Greene will discuss a strategy—which draws on decades of research in psychology, economics, political science, and anthropology—which aims to combat tribalism through mutually rewarding cooperation.
  • Frances Fukuyama will discuss our social transition from tribes to states and the propensity of states to seek legitimacy through tribal-like identities, which encourages the rise of xenophobia and nationalism.

This event includes a complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvre reception from 5 to 6 PM and a symposium from 6 to 9:30 PM.

Student and educator tickets are available for only $10!

Don’t miss out! Get your tickets now!

The Leakey Foundation to Hold Symposium on Tribalism, Politics, and Evolution

Protestors in Hong Kong on June 12, 2019. Photo by Lewis Tse Pui Lung/ Adobe Stock.

New York, NY August 28, 2019 — At a moment when society feels dangerously polarized, fragmented and unstable, the symposium “Our Tribal Nature: Tribalism, Politics, and Evolution” offers a forum for understanding our human urge to form alliances. On September 19, leading anthropologists, authors, psychologists, and political scientists including Sebastian Junger, Richard Wrangham, and Francis Fukuyama will gather at the Morgan Library in New York to examine the evolutionary origins and function of tribalism, our social transition from tribes to states, and the role tribal identity plays in our increasingly divided world.

Tribalism is defined as human behavior that expresses strong loyalty to a group with a shared identity, beliefs, or cultural heritage. Once essential for human survival, our innate desire to belong also holds the potential to divide — and destroy — us. Must tribalism always be violent and focused on the exclusion and destruction of “the other,” or can it be a universally cohesive societal force for good? Is populism simply tribalism, and, if so, how can anthropology help us to understand the global political environment? These questions open the door to a deeper understanding of the underlying psychology of human tribal behavior and the visceral issues of immigration, racism, and hyper-partisanship on the world stage. Join the conversation as these luminaries of science explore the drivers of polarized politics in the run-up to the 2020 election.

The symposium will be led and moderated by Sebastian Junger, award-winning filmmaker and New York Times bestselling author of Tribe, War, The Perfect Storm, Fire, and A Death in Belmont. Speakers Mahzarin Banaji, Alison Brooks, Molly Crockett, Francis Fukuyama, Joshua Greene, Polly Wiessner and Richard Wrangham will engage in a timely conversation, exploring the role our tribal instincts play in building communities — and tearing them apart through partisanship, racism, and xenophobia.

“Tribalism creates schisms between groups and — in a complex society — within it, both of which can be dangerously destabilizing,” said Junger. “Because today’s political climate has been described as excessively tribal, I am hoping that this event will impart some understanding of why people act that way, as well as why tribalism can have positive outcomes.”

Wrangham said, “Even though tribalism is the result of our evolutionary psychology, that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about it. If you understand the nature of these forces, you’ll be better equipped to do something about it.”

Brooks states, “The ability to share identity with large groups of people over time and space is an ancient human quality with both benefits and dangers. The internet has shrunk time and space constraints on human interactions and groups, allowing group identities and actions, whether for good or bad, on a global scale.”

Leakey Foundation trustee Chester Kamin states, “Fear and hatred of outsiders has disfigured human history with war, genocide, and oppression, and today, tribalism and xenophobic nationalism are on the rise, with potentially catastrophic results. Understanding and resisting these trends begins with the recognition that tribalism has deep evolutionary roots. This symposium aims to shed light on the evolution of tribalism in order to better understand its manipulation by modern states.”

“This group of scholars is able to analyze this important issue in a way that’s not usually discussed,” said Sharal Camisa, Executive Director of The Leakey Foundation. “As we head into the 2020 election, it serves the public interest to understand human behavior from an evolutionary perspective. It’s more urgent than ever for us to understand the power of our tribal nature, and how we can harness its best qualities to resist its worst.”

The Leakey Foundation’s Survival Symposiums bring together renowned scientists, scholars and public intellectuals to lay out the challenges and opportunities of human evolutionary history as we confront an uncertain but rapidly advancing future. Previous Survival Symposium talks have addressed violence, health and fitness, our relationship with other species, and climate change.

“Our Tribal Nature: Tribalism, Politics, and Evolution” is dedicated to the memory of David Hamburg.

Dr. David A. Hamburg (1925-2019) was a renowned psychiatrist, scholar, educator and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom who made understanding human conflict his life’s work. Observing both primates and humans, Dr. Hamburg explored the biological, environmental and psychological drivers of aggression and revolutionized the way we think about human conflict. He then applied these insights as a leader in averting nuclear war and genocide.

Dr. Hamburg was closely involved with The Leakey Foundation as a trustee, advisor and a dedicated believer in its mission. His writings and actions helped shape the intellectual framework for this symposium, and The Leakey Foundation is proud to dedicate “Our Tribal Nature: Tribalism, Politics, and Evolution” to his memory.

Get your tickets now!

AnthroQuest Vol. 2 No. 38 Fall/Winter 2018

AnthroQuest Vol. 2 No. 38 Fall/Winter 2018

A 3.8-Million-Year-Old Fossil From Ethiopia Reveals the Face of Lucy’s Ancestor

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Aug 28) — Cleveland Museum of Natural History Curator, Case Western Reserve University Adjunct Professor, and Leakey Foundation grantee Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie and his team of researchers have discovered a “remarkably complete” cranium of a 3.8-million-year-old early human ancestor from the Woranso-Mille paleontological site, located in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Working for the past 15 years at the site, the team discovered the cranium (MRD-VP-1/1), here referred to as “MRD,” in February 2016. In the years following their discovery, paleoanthropologists of the project conducted extensive analyses of MRD, while project geologists worked on determining the age and context of the specimen. The results of the team’s findings are published online in two papers in the international scientific journal Nature.

Side view of MRD specimen.

The 3.8-million-year-old fossil cranium (MRD) represents a time interval between 4.1 and 3.6 million years ago when early human ancestor fossils are extremely rare, especially outside the Woranso-Mille area. MRD generates new information on the overall craniofacial morphology of Australopithecus anamensis, a species that is widely accepted to have been the ancestor of Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis. MRD also shows that Lucy’s species and its hypothesized ancestor, A. anamensis, coexisted for approximately 100,000 years, challenging previous assumptions of a linear transition between these two early human ancestors. Haile-Selassie said, “This is a game-changer in our understanding of human evolution during the Pliocene.”

Front view of MRD specimen.

Discovery of MRD-VP-1/1 (“MRD”)

Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie holding MRD at the Woranso-Mille research site.

The Woranso-Mille project has been conducting field research in the central Afar region of Ethiopia since 2004. The project has collected more than 12,600 fossil specimens representing about 85 mammalian species. The fossil collection includes about 230 fossil hominin specimens dating to between >3.8 and ~3.0 million years ago.

Ali Bereino, the local Afar worker who found the first piece of MRD.

The first piece of MRD, the upper jaw, was found by Ali Bereino (a local Afar worker) on February 10, 2016, at a locality known as Miro Dora, Mille District of the Afar Regional State. The specimen was exposed on the surface, and further investigation of the area resulted in the recovery of the rest of the cranium. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted the rest of the cranium. It was a eureka moment and a dream come true,” said Haile-Selassie.

Location of the Discovery

MRD was found in the Woranso-Mille Paleontological Project study area located in Zone 1, Mille District of the Afar Regional State of Ethiopia. Miro Dora is the local name of the area where MRD was found. It is about 550 km northeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, and 55 km north of Hadar (“Lucy’s” site).

Geology and Age Determination

In a companion paper published in the same issue of Nature, Beverly Saylor of Case Western Reserve University and her colleagues determined the age of the fossil as 3.8 million years by dating minerals in layers of volcanic rocks nearby. They mapped the dated levels to the fossil site using field observations and the chemistry and magnetic properties of rock layers. Saylor and her colleagues combined the field observations with analysis of microscopic biological remains to reconstruct the landscape, vegetation and hydrology where MRD died.

MRD was found in the sandy deposits of a delta where a river entered a lake. The river likely originated in the highlands of the Ethiopian plateau while the lake developed at lower elevations, where rift activity caused the Earth surface to stretch and thin, creating the lowlands of the Afar region. Debris flows and volcanic ejecta occasionally descended into the otherwise quiet lake, which was ultimately buried by basalt lava flows. This kind of volcanic activity and dramatic landscape change is common in rift settings. “Incredible exposures and the volcanic layers that episodically blanketed the land surface and lake floor allowed us to map out this varied landscape and how it changed over time,” said Saylor.

Fossil pollen grains and chemical remains of fossil plant and algae that are preserved in the lake and delta sediments provide clues about the ancient environmental conditions. Specifically, they indicate that the lake near where MRD finally rested was likely salty at times and that the watershed of the lake was mostly dry, but that there were also forested areas on the shores of the delta or alongside the river that fed the delta and lake system. “MRD lived near a large lake in a region that was dry. We’re eager to conduct more work in these deposits to understand the environment of the MRD specimen, the relationship to climate change and how it affected human evolution, if at all,” said Naomi Levin, a co-author on the study from the University of Michigan.

Significance of the Discovery

A reconstruction by John Gurche of the craniofacial morphology of MRD.

1. Among the most important findings was the team’s conclusion that Australopithecus anamensis and its descendant species, the well-known Australopithecus afarensis, coexisted for a period of at least 100,000 years. This finding contradicts the long-held notion of an anagenetic relationship between these two taxa, whereby one species disappears only by giving rise to a new species in a linear fashion.

2. Australopithecus anamensis is the oldest known member of the genus Australopithecus. The species was previously only known through teeth and jaw fragments, all dated to between 4.2 and 3.9 million years ago. The similarities between the preserved dentition of the 3.8-million-year-old MRD and the previously known teeth and jaw fragments of A. anamensis led to a positive identification of MRD as a member of A. anamensis. Additionally, due to the cranium’s rare near-complete state, the researchers identified never-before-seen facial features in the species. “MRD has a mix of primitive and derived facial and cranial features that I didn’t expect to see on a single individual,” Haile-Selassie said. Leakey Foundation granteee Dr. Stephanie Melillo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, co-author of the papers, further said, “A. anamensis was already a species that we knew quite a bit about, but this is the first cranium of the species ever discovered. It is good to finally be able to put a face to the name.”

Some characteristics were shared with its descendant species, Australopithecus afarensis, while others differed significantly and had more in common with those of even older and more primitive early human ancestor groups, such as Ardipithecus and Sahelanthropus.

3. The distinct differences between the 3.8-million-year-old MRD specimen and a previously unassigned 3.9-million-year-old hominin cranium fragment–commonly known as the Belohdelie frontal and discovered in the Middle Awash of Ethiopia by a team of paleontologists in 1981–also proved significant. The preserved features of the Belohdelie frontal differed from those of MRD but were significantly similar to those of the known cranial specimens of Lucy’s species. As a result, the new study confirms that the Belohdelie frontal belonged to an individual of Lucy’s species. This identification extends the earliest record of Australopithecus afarensis back to 3.9 million years ago, indicating a period of at least 100,000 years’ overlap with its ancestor, Australopithecus anamensis.

4. The 3.8-million-year-old MRD specimen was buried in a river delta on the margin of a lake that formed in an actively rifted landscape with steep hillsides and volcanic eruptions that blanketed the land surface with ash and lava. There were forested areas on the shores of the delta or along the edges of the river that flowed into the delta and lake system, but the watershed that fed the river, delta and lake system was mostly dry with few trees.


This post was created with materials provided by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Read the original article here.