University Park, Pa. — Humans are the only primates whose bodies are covered by mostly naked skin, not by fur. The evolution of our oddly bare bodies has been crucial in the development of other human traits. In the February issue of Scientific American magazine, Penn State anthropologist Nina Jablonski writes about the evolutionary origins of human hairlessness.
Mammals possess ample body fur for insulation, protection from external elements, and social signaling. Though various underground or aquatic mammals also have evolved hairlessness, human hairlessness is unique because it evolved to help our bodies stay cool. As Jablonski explains, the changing environment our ancestors faced 1.6 million years ago necessitated more trekking in search of food and fresh water. To help regulate body temperature during elevated levels of activity, early humans shed their fur. An excerpt from her article “Evolution: The Naked Truth” can be found at http://www.scientificamerican.com/sciammag/
Jablonski is professor and head of the Department of Anthropology in the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State. She conducts research on primate and human evolution, especially on adaptations to changing environments through time. Her 2006 book, “Skin: A Natural History” has been featured in popular media including National Public Radio and The Colbert Report. It also was recognized with the W.W. Howells Award of the American Anthropological Association for best book in biological anthropology for 2007.
She will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, on March 10, in recognition of her research on the evolution and meaning of human skin color.