Friday, 2 July 2010

Did the baby sling drive forward human evolution?

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In our new issue, evolutionary archaeologist Timothy Taylor, author of the forthcoming The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution (published by Palgrave later this year), argues that the invention of the baby sling by prehistoric humans led to the development of the modern human brain by allowing babies to remain helpless for longer and develop outside of the womb – effectively, the invention lengthened the human gestation period.

As Taylor points out:
"I am not the first researcher to point out the practical importance of the baby sling, but I am going further in arguing that its genetic reverb on our emergence was pivotal, changing the algebra of the biologically possible."
So what do you think? Read Taylor's article, and let us know by commenting on this post.


artificialhabitat said...


"The devoutly religious consider us made in the image of God; Darwinists adhere to natural selection, where qualities of fitness are gradually amplified. Neither view recognises how biologically illogical we are."

Well, that isn't true. 'Darwinism' has no problem accomodating and explaining the countless examples of 'biologically illogical' features - which are by no means restricted to humans.

Also, no credible evolutionary biologist thinks that "we result from a straightforward and natural survival of the fittest".

These misconceptions seem out of place in an article that claims to be about evolution, based on a book about evolution.

Of course, there is nothing particularly outlandish about the idea that a technological development could have released us from an evolutionary constraint, but it all seems highly speculative, and I can't help wondering if the author takes things too far in assigning such a pivotal role to this one technology.

Ali Dover said...

How refreshing to see the baby sling written about in the positive light it deserves. Countless people know the benefits to both parent and child of wearing a baby in a sling; it was very interesting to read of its likely origins.

davidfcox (twitter) said...

Isaac Asimov wrote an article, as I recall, "2 billion heartbeats" where he put forward the theory that the 2 critical mutations were that we aged too slowly. Our fur grew to slowly, and we were helpless too long. This was compensated for by excessive mother love and better cooperation. Clothes, tools, training evolved quickly with a slower developing brain able to become more sophisticated.

John Jacob Lyons said...

Timothy Taylor singles out the invention of the baby-sling and other early technological innovations as being pivotal to human evolution. Other recent authors have highlighted the invention of fire and the beginning of farming in the same context. They are all correct. Each of these human, adaptive cultural/ behavioural break-throughs must have made significant changes to the array of relative evolutionary selection pressures. I have previously called this powerful culturally-led evolutionary driver, 'genetic priming' and have also argued that it has played a pivotal role in the evolution of human religiosity, language and morality.

It is also interesting to note that many of these changes would have been in play concurrently and impacting over-lapping sets of gene-variants(alleles). Thus changes to the genome would have been somewhat less than optimal for any particular adaptive behaviour.

I also believe that genetic priming has played a role in the niche-construction behaviour of non-human animal species.

See for a bit more on genetic priming.

John Jacob Lyons

baby pouch said...

That is quite an interesting notion. Baby slings are amazing tools and it's a shame more mamas aren't using them today. I was able to keep my babies safe and near AND get a little work done with free hands. Also, despite what the mainstream feels, babies actually end up quite independent.