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14 December 2017 15:05 (South Africa)

New fossil evidence suggests humans may be hard-wired for peace

The question of whether humans are hard-wired to kill each other or support each other has taken a new twist with the discovery of a 4.4 million-year-old human ancestor. Previously, apes were thought to be peaceful vegetarians, until some decades ago chimpanzees were discovered to hunt monkeys and kill each other. The new hominid may have been gentler than others. Ardipithecus ramidus has a less protruding mouth equipped with considerably smaller, blunter canine teeth than the chimpanzee, causing some scientists to believe chimps could have been brigands in an otherwise relatively peaceful ancestry. Other close human relatives, the gorillas, are known as gentle creatures with a close-knit family life, and who rarely kill. More compelling, the bonobo, which is as genetically close to humans as the chimp, has never been observed to kill one of its own. And now palaeontologists also assert that the evidence for warfare does not go back much further than the agricultural revolution, about 15,000 years ago. Quite what impact this will have on human evolution – or the streets and back alleys of major cities - is not yet clear.

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