Wilson gained the world attention in 1967 when he used a new technique measuring the “immunological distance” between species, which he had developed, to claim that humankind was in fact much younger than had previously been thought. Conventional fossil dating process had the date of the start of human evolution at about 20 million years ago, but Wilson’s technique utilised a comparison of cell DNA from humans and other primates – the so-called ‘molecular clock’.
The fact that such a large amount of the genetic material was so similar led Wilson to deduce that mankind had branched off from the other primates only 5 million years ago. This ‘recent-origin’ theory was a complete shift in thinking from the prevailing views, and remained controversial until it was confirmed when archaeologists discovered the Lucy fossils in 1974.
For this stunning piece of work alone, Wilson would have been celebrated, but Wilson had another bombshell still to come.