Describing himself as an evolutionary biologist and a physical anthropologist, Mann remembers that when he began teaching at Penn in 1969, he thought "human evolution was one of the most im portant subjects going." But his students didn't always share his enthusiasm. "So I began thinking about how to make this information not only interesting but also personally important, so they could learn something about themselves that would be useful."
Calling on what he knew about how teeth have changed over time, he asked his students about their own experiences with wisdom teeth and crowded teeth. "Our ancestors had much bigger faces and jaws, with plenty of room for third molars," he says. "But as our faces have evolved, they've become much smaller. They've literally moved under our braincases and the dental arch has shortened. There's no longer room for the third molars" a situation Mann describes as a consequence, or "scar" of evolution.
The article goes though a number of other examples, all fitting the theme of the exhibit. But I especially liked this passage about creationism and evolution:
"Look," he says. "I have been studying human evolution for 40 years. I have traveled around the world. I have handled just about every human fossil, every relic of our evolution. I know them to be genuine. I know that they represent the development of our own kind from creatures who had many resemblances to apes but were not apes, and over time, I see a system of change that can be marked in the record of geology and in dating processes that show that over time, our kind evolved into who we are.
"When I say this to a creationist who has never handled a fossil, who doesn't really have my experience, and they suggest that this is wrong, that I don't know what I'm talking about, I am distressed. It's not to me a proper way of debate."
I pulled the quote for the headline of the post, because it has such a resonance for those of us who study the human fossil record.