Triangulation as a Method for Theorizing about Human Evolution

Have you ever wondered how human beings came to be? Most of us have been in science classes that contain charts, graphs, or diagrams depicting the evolution of man from primate (a small, chimp-like creature) to the homo sapiens we know each other as today. But, how exactly do scientists and anthropologists justify their theories about human evolution, particularly with such little physical evidence concerning these proposed physical adaptations, including an increase in brain capacity (and therefore, increased intelligence)?

Because there is such limited physical evidence exists about our human ancestors, anthropologists and scientists attempt to reconstruct the behavior of our human ancestors during the period in which our species was evolving, with the use of a great deal of speculation in order to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of this time period.

As a result, scientists have come up with the idea of “triangulation.” In other words, in order to gain some more insight into what might have been the behaviors of our human ancestors, scientists look at current human behavior and compare and contrast these behaviors to the behaviors of the closest living relatives to our ancestors, primates such as chimpanzees.

Consequently, scientists tend to believe that because our human ancestors were midway between human begins and chimps physically, they must have had behaviors that were similar to both humans and chimps. The term “triangulation” comes from the the notion that we must analyze and interpret the two cultures of modern day humans and primates which combine to make the third notion of what our ancestor’s culture may have been like. If one were to diagram this, the result would be a triangle where the two present day cultures formulate a hypothesized notion of the third culture that of our human ancestors.

Therefore, a lot of imagination comes into play when discussing human evolution with most of the gaps in factual evidence filled by the current socio-cultural perspectives and view points held by the scientists formulating the theories. Although there have been male-oriented and female-oriented perspectives when it comes to how humans adapted higher intelligence, use of tools, and agricultural systems, it seems more likely that neither males nor females began this evolutionary trend, but rather that the evolution came from a synthesis of behaviors from both males and females.

The bottom line is that no one really knows how accurate these reconstructions are because, again, physical evidence is limited.