Evolution & Human Origins

Evolution & Human Origins

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Discovery of Genetic Mutation That Separates Humans and Neanderthals

An international team of scientists representing Russia, Germany, and the United States have found a unique mechanism at work in the DNA of human beings that helped shape our species’ evolution, the...

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Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins

The Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins pairs fossils with DNA research to present the remarkable history of human evolution. The hall covers millions of years of human history, from early ancestors who lived more than six million years ago to modern Homo sapiens, who evolved 200,000 to 150,000 years ago.

This innovative exhibition combines discoveries in the fossil record with the latest genomic science to explore the most profound mysteries of humankind: who we are, where we came from, and what is in store for the future of our species. The hall explores human biology and anatomy, traces the path of human evolution, and examines the origins of human creativity.

Featuring four life-sized tableaux of Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and Cro-Magnons, the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins shows each species in its habitat, demonstrating the behaviors and capabilities that scientists think it had. Also displayed are a variety of important fossil casts, including the 1.7-million-year-old “Turkana Boy.” The hall also features examples of what are thought to be some of humans’ earliest forms of artistic expression, including an original limestone engraving of a horse carved about 25,000 years ago in southwestern France.

Learn how you are like—and different from—a Neanderthal and a chimpanzee.

Deep Evolutionary Origins of the Human Smile in Ancient Ancestors

The origins of a pretty smile have long been sought in the fearsome jaws of living sharks which have been considered living fossils reflecting the ancestral condition for vertebrate tooth development and inference of its evolution. However, this view ignores real fossils which more accurately reflect the nature of ancient ancestors.

New research led by the University of Bristol and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center published in Nature Ecology and Evolution reveals that the dentitions of living shark relatives are entirely unrepresentative of the last shared ancestor of jawed vertebrates.

The study reveals that while teeth evolved once, complex dentitions have been gained and lost many times in evolutionary history and tooth replacement in living sharks is not the best model in the search for therapeutic solutions to human dental pathologies.

Lead author Martin Rücklin from Naturalis Biodiversity Center in The Netherlands said: “We used high energy x-rays at the TOMCAT beamline of the Swiss Light Source at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland, to study tooth and jaw structure and development among shark ancestors. These ischnacanthid acanthodians possessed marginal dentitions composed of multiple, successional tooth rows, that are quite unlike the tooth whorls that occur in front of the jaw in acanthodians and across the jaws of crown-chondrichthyans.”

Virtual section through the ischnacanthid acanthodian jaw showing growth lines and the addition of teeth used to reconstruct the tooth replacement. Credit: Martin Rücklin, Naturalis Biodiversity Center

Co-author Professor Philip Donoghue from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences said: “Dentitions of vertebrates are characterized by an organized arrangement to enable occlusion and efficient feeding over the lifetime of an animal. This organization and pattering of teeth is thought to originate in a universal development mechanism, the dental lamina, seen in sharks. The condition we see in the successional tooth rows cannot be explained by this mechanism.”

Co-author Benedict King from Naturalis Biodiversity Center said: “Using state of the art probabilistic ancestral state estimation methods, we build on this discovery to show that teeth existed in the crown-ancestor of gnathostomes, whereas complex dentitions, tooth whorls, a dental lamina, and coordinated replacement, have all evolved independently and been lost several times in the early evolution of jawed vertebrates.”

Reference: “Acanthodian dental development and the origin of gnathostome dentitions” by Martin Rücklin, Benedict King, John A. Cunningham, Zerina Johanson, Federica Marone and Philip C. J. Donoghue, 6 May 2021, Nature Ecology & Evolution.
DOI: 10.1038/s41559-021-01458-4

This work was supported by the Dutch Research Council NWO (Vidi grant), the Natural Environment Research Council, the Paul Scherrer Institut, EU Horizon2020 and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Review: Most human origins stories are not compatible with known fossils

The last common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans represents the starting point of human and chimpanzee evolution. Fossil apes play an essential role when it comes to reconstructing the nature of our ape ancestry. Credit: Printed with permission from © Christopher M. Smith

In the 150 years since Charles Darwin speculated that humans originated in Africa, the number of species in the human family tree has exploded, but so has the level of dispute concerning early human evolution. Fossil apes are often at the center of the debate, with some scientists dismissing their importance to the origins of the human lineage (the "hominins"), and others conferring them starring evolutionary roles. A new review out on May 7 in the journal Science looks at the major discoveries in hominin origins since Darwin's works and argues that fossil apes can inform us about essential aspects of ape and human evolution, including the nature of our last common ancestor.

Humans diverged from apes—specifically, the chimpanzee lineage—at some point between about 9.3 million and 6.5 million years ago, towards the end of the Miocene epoch. To understand hominin origins, paleoanthropologists aim to reconstruct the physical characteristics, behavior, and environment of the last common ancestor of humans and chimps.

"When you look at the narrative for hominin origins, it's just a big mess—there's no consensus whatsoever," said Sergio Almécija, a senior research scientist in the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Anthropology and the lead author of the review. "People are working under completely different paradigms, and that's something that I don't see happening in other fields of science."

There are two major approaches to resolving the human origins problem: "Top-down," which relies on analysis of living apes, especially chimpanzees and "bottom-up," which puts importance on the larger tree of mostly extinct apes. For example, some scientists assume that hominins originated from a chimp-like knuckle-walking ancestor. Others argue that the human lineage originated from an ancestor more closely resembling, in some features, some of the strange Miocene apes.

In reviewing the studies surrounding these diverging approaches, Almécija and colleagues with expertise ranging from paleontology to functional morphology and phylogenetics discuss the limitations of relying exclusively on one of these opposing approaches to the hominin origins problem. "Top-down" studies sometimes ignore the reality that living apes (humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and hylobatids) are just the survivors of a much larger, and now mostly extinct, group. On the other hand, studies based on the "bottom-up"approach are prone to giving individual fossil apes an important evolutionary role that fits a preexisting narrative.

The positional repertoire preceding human bipedalism is unknown (so it is still in some living apes). Credit: © Sergio Almécija

"In The Descent of Man in 1871, Darwin speculated that humans originated in Africa from an ancestor different from any living species. However, he remained cautious given the scarcity of fossils at the time," Almécija said. "One hundred fifty years later, possible hominins—approaching the time of the human-chimpanzee divergence—have been found in eastern and central Africa, and some claim even in Europe. In addition, more than 50 fossil ape genera are now documented across Africa and Eurasia. However, many of these fossils show mosaic combinations of features that do not match expectations for ancient representatives of the modern ape and human lineages. As a consequence, there is no scientific consensus on the evolutionary role played by these fossil apes."

Overall, the researchers found that most stories of human origins are not compatible with the fossils that we have today.

"Living ape species are specialized species, relicts of a much larger group of now extinct apes. When we consider all evidence—that is, both living and fossil apes and hominins—it is clear that a human evolutionary story based on the few ape species currently alive is missing much of the bigger picture," said study co-author Ashley Hammond, an assistant curator in the Museum's Division of Anthropology.

Kelsey Pugh, a Museum postdoctoral fellow and study co-author adds, "The unique and sometimes unexpected features and combinations of features observed among fossil apes, which often differ from those of living apes, are necessary to untangle which features hominins inherited from our ape ancestors and which are unique to our lineage."

Living apes alone, the authors conclude, offer insufficient evidence. "Current disparate theories regarding ape and human evolution would be much more informed if, together with early hominins and living apes, Miocene apes were also included in the equation," says Almécija. "In other words, fossil apes are essential to reconstruct the 'starting point' from which humans and chimpanzees evolved."

Human Origin 101

The story of human evolution began about 7 million years ago, when the lineages that lead to Homo sapiens and chimpanzees separated. Learn about the over 20 early human species that belong in our family tree and how the natural selection of certain physical and behavioral traits defined what it means to be human.

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Out of Eden Walk

Paul Salopek, a National Geographic Fellow and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is conducting an experiment in slow journalism by retracing the journey of some of our human ancestors&rsquo migration beyond Africa. He began his multiyear journey in 2013 in Ethiopia, and will walk around 33,800 kilometers (21,000 miles) ending at the southern tip of South America. Along the way, he is walking with guides, stopping to speak with local people and document their stories, and sharing his experiences along the way.


In the mid-1800s, Charles Darwin famously described variation in the anatomy of finches from the Galapagos Islands. Alfred Russel Wallace noted the similarities and differences between nearby species and those separated by natural boundaries in the Amazon and Indonesia. Independently they came to the same conclusion: over generations, natural selection of inherited traits could give rise to new species. Use the resources below to teach the theory of evolution in your classroom.

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Learn how early humans evolved from Homo habilis, to Homo erectus, to Homo sapiens and developed basic survival tools.

In Their Footsteps: Human Migration Out of Africa

Paul Salopek is an award-winning journalist and National Geographic Explorer, who is following the footsteps of our ancestors out of Africa. As he walks, Salopek is documenting the places he travels, the people he meets, and telling the stories of our human history, from the very earliest humans to our more recent past.

Related Resources

Out of Eden Walk

Paul Salopek, a National Geographic Fellow and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is conducting an experiment in slow journalism by retracing the journey of some of our human ancestors&rsquo migration beyond Africa. He began his multiyear journey in 2013 in Ethiopia, and will walk around 33,800 kilometers (21,000 miles) ending at the southern tip of South America. Along the way, he is walking with guides, stopping to speak with local people and document their stories, and sharing his experiences along the way.


In the mid-1800s, Charles Darwin famously described variation in the anatomy of finches from the Galapagos Islands. Alfred Russel Wallace noted the similarities and differences between nearby species and those separated by natural boundaries in the Amazon and Indonesia. Independently they came to the same conclusion: over generations, natural selection of inherited traits could give rise to new species. Use the resources below to teach the theory of evolution in your classroom.

Toothpick Tylosaurus

Students use toothpicks to make a skeleton model of a sea reptile that lived more than 65 million years ago.

Human Evolution

Learn how early humans evolved from Homo habilis, to Homo erectus, to Homo sapiens and developed basic survival tools.

In Their Footsteps: Human Migration Out of Africa

Paul Salopek is an award-winning journalist and National Geographic Explorer, who is following the footsteps of our ancestors out of Africa. As he walks, Salopek is documenting the places he travels, the people he meets, and telling the stories of our human history, from the very earliest humans to our more recent past.

Scientists revise timeline of human origins

Between 2.1 and 1.8 million years ago, the oldest known species of the human genus, Homo, exhibited diverse traits. These species include the 1470 Group and the 1813 Group, based on the Kenyan fossils KNM-ER 1470 (left) and KNM-ER 1813 (second from left), respectively. By 1.8 to 1.9 million years ago, the species Homo erectus had evolved in Africa and started to spread to Eurasia. Early populations of this long-lived species are represented by the Kenyan fossil KNMER 3733 (right) and the Georgian fossil Dmanisi Skull 5 (second from right). The three lineages -- the 1470 group, the 1813 group, and Homo erectus -- overlapped in time for several hundred thousand years. The Kenyan fossils, from the site of Koobi Fora in the Lake Turkana region of Kenya, are housed in the National Museums of Kenya. Fossils from Dmanisi are housed in the Georgian National Museum. Credit: Kenyan fossil casts – Chip Clark, Smithsonian Human Origins Program Dmanisi Skull 5 – Guram Bumbiashvili, Georgian National Museum

Many traits unique to humans were long thought to have originated in the genus Homo between 2.4 and 1.8 million years ago in Africa. Although scientists have recognized these characteristics for decades, they are reconsidering the true evolutionary factors that drove them.

A large brain, long legs, the ability to craft tools and prolonged maturation periods were all thought to have evolved together at the start of the Homo lineage as African grasslands expanded and Earth's climate became cooler and drier. However, new climate and fossil evidence analyzed by a team of researchers, including Smithsonian paleoanthropologist Richard Potts, Susan Antón, professor of anthropology at New York University, and Leslie Aiello, president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, suggests that these traits did not arise as a single package. Rather, several key ingredients once thought to define Homo evolved in earlier Australopithecus ancestors between 3 and 4 million years ago, while others emerged significantly later.

The team's research takes an innovative approach to integrating paleoclimate data, new fossils and understandings of the genus Homo, archaeological remains and biological studies of a wide range of mammals (including humans). The synthesis of these data led the team to conclude that the ability of early humans to adjust to changing conditions ultimately enabled the earliest species of Homo to vary, survive and begin spreading from Africa to Eurasia 1.85 million years ago. Additional information about this study is available in the July 4 issue of Science.

Potts developed a new climate framework for East African human evolution that depicts most of the era from 2.5 million to 1.5 million years ago as a time of strong climate instability and shifting intensity of annual wet and dry seasons. This framework, which is based on Earth's astronomical cycles, provides the basis for some of the paper's key findings, and it suggests that multiple coexisting species of Homo that overlapped geographically emerged in highly changing environments.

Hominin evolution from 3.0 to 1.5 Ma. Green: Australopithecus, Yellow: Paranthropus, Red: Homo. The icons indicate from the bottom the first appearance of stone tools at

2.6 Ma, the dispersal of Homo to Eurasia at

1.85 Ma, and the appearance of the Acheulean technology at

1.76 Ma. The number of contemporaneous hominin taxa during this period reflects different strategies of adaptation to habitat variability. The cultural milestones do not correlate with the known first appearances of any of the currently recognized Homo taxa. Credit: Antón et al., Science, 2014

"Unstable climate conditions favored the evolution of the roots of human flexibility in our ancestors," said Potts, curator of anthropology and director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. "The narrative of human evolution that arises from our analyses stresses the importance of adaptability to changing environments, rather than adaptation to any one environment, in the early success of the genus Homo."

The team reviewed the entire body of fossil evidence relevant to the origin of Homo to better understand how the human genus evolved. For example, five skulls about 1.8 million years old from the site of Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia, show variations in traits typically seen in African H. erectus but differ from defining traits of other species of early Homo known only in Africa. Recently discovered skeletons of Australopithecus sediba (about 1.98 million years old) from Malapa, South Africa, also include some Homo-like features in its teeth and hands, while displaying unique, non-Homo traits in its skull and feet. Comparison of these fossils with the rich fossil record of East Africa indicates that the early diversification of the genus Homo was a period of morphological experimentation. Multiple species of Homo lived concurrently.

"We can tell the species apart based on differences in the shape of their skulls, especially their face and jaws, but not on the basis of size," said Antón. "The differences in their skulls suggest early Homo divvied up the environment, each utilizing a slightly different strategy to survive."

Even though all of the Homo species had overlapping body, brain and tooth sizes, they also had larger brains and bodies than their likely ancestors, Australopithecus. According to the study, these differences and similarities show that the human package of traits evolved separately and at different times in the past rather than all together.

Evolutionary timeline of important anatomical, behavioral and life history characteristics that were once thought to be associated with the origin of the genus Homo or earliest H. erectus. Credit: Antón et al., Science 2014

In addition to studying climate and fossil data, the team also reviewed evidence from ancient stone tools, isotopes found in teeth and cut marks found on animal bones in East Africa.

"Taken together, these data suggest that species of early Homo were more flexible in their dietary choices than other species," said Aiello. "Their flexible diet—probably containing meat—was aided by stone tool-assisted foraging that allowed our ancestors to exploit a range of resources."

The team concluded that this flexibility likely enhanced the ability of human ancestors to successfully adapt to unstable environments and disperse from Africa. This flexibility continues to be a hallmark of human biology today, and one that ultimately underpins the ability to occupy diverse habitats throughout the world. Future research on new fossil and archaeological finds will need to focus on identifying specific adaptive features that originated with early Homo, which will yield a deeper understanding of human evolution.

12 Theories of How We Became Human, and Why They’re All Wrong

Killers? Hippies? Toolmakers? Chefs? Scientists have trouble agreeing on the essence of humanity—and when and how we acquired it.

New Human Ancestor Discovered: Homo naledi (EXCLUSIVE VIDEO)

What a piece of work is man! Everyone agrees on that much. But what exactly is it about Homo sapiens that makes us unique among animals, let alone apes, and when and how did our ancestors acquire that certain something? The past century has seen a profusion of theories. Some reveal as much about the time their proponents lived in as they do about human evolution.

1. We Make Tools: “It is in making tools that man is unique,” anthropologist Kenneth Oakley wrote in a 1944 article. Apes use found objects as tools, he explained, “but the shaping of sticks and stones to particular uses was the first recognizably human activity.” In the early 1960s, Louis Leakey attributed the dawn of toolmaking, and thus of humanity, to a species named Homo habilis (“Handy Man”), which lived in East Africa around 2.8 million years ago. But as Jane Goodall and other researchers have since shown, chimps also shape sticks for particular uses—stripping them of their leaves, for instance, to “fish” for underground insects. Even crows, which lack hands, are pretty handy.

2. We’re Killers: According to anthropologist Raymond Dart, our predecessors differed from living apes in being confirmed killers—carnivorous creatures that "seized living quarries by violence, battered them to death, tore apart their broken bodies, dismembered them limb from limb, slaking their ravenous thirst with the hot blood of victims and greedily devouring livid writhing flesh.” It may read like pulp fiction now, but after the horrific carnage of the Second World War, Dart’s 1953 article outlining his “killer ape” theory struck a chord.

3. We Share Food: In the 1960s, the killer ape gave way to the hippie ape. Anthropologist Glynn Isaac unearthed evidence of animal carcasses that had been purposefully moved from the sites of their deaths to locations where, presumably, the meat could be shared with the whole commune. As Isaac saw it, food sharing led to the need to share information about where food could be found—and thus to the development of language and other distinctively human social behaviors.

4. We Swim in the Nude: A little later in the age of Aquarius, Elaine Morgan, a TV documentary writer, claimed that humans are so different from other primates because our ancestors evolved in a different environment—near and in the water. Shedding body hair made them faster swimmers, while standing upright enabled them to wade. The “aquatic ape” hypothesis is widely dismissed by the scientific community. But, in 2013, David Attenborough endorsed it.

5. We Throw Stuff: Archaeologist Reid Ferring believes our ancestors began to man up when they developed the ability to hurl stones at high velocities. At Dmanisi, a 1.8- million-year-old hominin site in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Ferring found evidence that Homo erectus invented public stonings to drive predators away from their kills. “The Dmanisi people were small,” says Ferring.“This place was filled with big cats. So how did hominins survive? How did they make it all the way from Africa? Rock throwing offers part of the answer.” Stoning animals also socialized us, he argues, because it required a group effort to be successful.

6. We Hunt: Hunting did much more than inspire cooperation, anthropologists Sherwood Washburn and C. S. Lancaster argued in a 1968 paper: “In a very real sense our intellect, interests, emotions and basic social life—all are evolutionary products of the success of the hunting adaptation.” Our larger brains, for instance, developed out of the need to store more information about where and when to find game. Hunting also allegedly led to a division of labor between the sexes, with women doing the foraging. Which raises the question: Why do women have big brains too?

7. We Trade Food for Sex: More specifically, monogamous sex. The crucial turning point in human evolution, according to a theory published in 1981 by C. Owen Lovejoy, was the emergence of monogamy six million years ago. Until then, brutish alpha males who drove off rival suitors had the most sex. Monogamous females, however, favored males who were most adept at providing food and sticking around to help raise junior. Our ancestors began walking upright, according to Lovejoy, because it freed up their hands and allowed them to carry home more groceries.

8. We Eat (Cooked) Meat: Big brains are hungry—gray matter requires 20 times more energy than muscle does. They could never have evolved on a vegetarian diet, some researchers claim instead, our brains grew only once we started eating meat, a food source rich in protein and fat, around two to three million years ago. And according to anthropologist Richard Wrangham, once our ancestors invented cooking—a uniquely human behavior that makes food easier to digest—they wasted less energy chewing or pounding meat and so had even more energy available for their brains. Eventually those brains grew large enough to make the conscious decision to become vegan.

9. We Eat (Cooked) Carbs: Or maybe our bigger brains were made possible by carb-loading, according to a recent paper. Once our ancestors had invented cooking, tubers and other starchy plants became an excellent source of brain food, more readily available than meat. An enzyme in our saliva called amylase helps break down carbohydrates into the glucose the brain needs. Evolutionary geneticist Mark G. Thomas of University College London notes that our DNA contains multiple copies of the gene for amylase, suggesting that it—and tubers—helped fuel the explosive growth of the human brain.

10. We Walk on Two Feet: Did the crucial turning point in human evolution occur when our ancestors descended from the trees and started walking upright? Proponents of the “savanna hypothesis” say climate change drove that adaptation. As Africa became drier around three million years ago, the forests shrank and savannas came to dominate the landscape. That favored primates who could stand up and see above the tall grasses to watch for predators, and who could travel more efficiently across the open landscape, where food and water sources were far apart. One problem for this hypothesis is the 2009 discovery of Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominid that lived 4.4 million years ago in what’s now Ethiopia. That region was damp and wooded then—yet “Ardi” could walk on two legs.

The DNA that makes up our genes, and those of every organism on Earth except some viruses, is subject to random mutation. Every now and then one of those mutations affects an important trait, such as an animal’s coat color or a particular behavior. Animal breeders selectively breed animals that have the traits they want that’s artificial selection. In nature, the selection is done by the animal’s environment—and by the opposite sex.

If an animal is born with a coat color that offers more protection from predators, for instance, it could survive longer and produce more offspring. If a longer courtship display is more appealing to mates, that too could lead to greater reproductive success. Over time, such favorable mutations spread through a population and change how it looks. Over enough time, the process can even produce new species.

The Origin and Evolution of Man | Biology

In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Introduction to Origin of Man 2. Features of Man 3. History 4. Miscellaneous Remains 5. Biological Trends 6. General Consideration.

  1. Introduction to Origin of Man
  2. Features of Man
  3. History of Mankind
  4. Miscellaneous Remains of Man
  5. Biological Trends in Human Evolution
  6. General Consideration on Human Ancestry

1. Introduction to Origin of Man:

The origin and evolution of man, Homo sapiens, have been a topic of great biolo­gical interest since time immemorial. The idea that man is a creation of a super­natural power prevailed for long time in earlier days.

But the Biologists view the origin of man using knowledge on mor­phology, physiology, embryology and fossil records. Man evolved from some unknown mammalian ancestor and reached the pin­nacle of evolutionary fabric.

Man is placed under the family Hominidae of the order Primate and differs from other anthropoid apes by having: Large size of brain with greater functional ability (Maximum in Gorilla = 650 c.c., Minimum in Man = 1000 c.c.) The brain case is larger than face region.

The face is flatter with less protruding lower jaw. Continuous growth of long hair on head which are spare and short on body. Generalized hands with better developed thumbs and long leg with non-opposable big toe. Man is terrestrial in habit and walks erect on two feet. They surpass all other animals by possessing the ‘human features’ which are exclusive for them.

2. Features of Man:

In contrast to that of the anthropoids, the human line showed a large number of progressive features.

The features are:

(a) The face becomes flattened and is devoid of a nuzzle (Fig. 1.27).

(b) The brow ridges gradually decline and disappear.

(c) The cranium rises sufficiently above the orbits to house a larger brain.

(d) The skull is rounded at the rear.

(e) The foramen magnum and occipital condyles are shifted ventrally to join with the upright vertebral column.

(f) A mastoid process arises in the ear region.

(g) The teeth become smaller in size and are arranged in a U-shaped arc. The canines are moderate in size.

(h) The arms with the fingers are proportionately shorter. The feet are nongrasping. The toes are placed in line. The heal bone is elongated to help insertion of muscles in upright posture and walking.

(i) The vertebral column shows slight curvature.

(j) The ilia are wider than length. Broader ilia help insertion of the big gluteal mus­cles which is involved in balance.

The great apes can make sounds which indicate some desires and emotions but fail to describe-objects. But man can deve­lop sounds into words symbolising things or ideas. The ape-prehuman transition is associated with the descent from trees to the ground which is of great significance in human evolution. This transition freed the hands for making and use of tools to supplement the action of the hands.

3. History of Mankind:

Before the practice of burial of the dead, remains of early man were limited to member of skulls (often partial) and some other bony remains. Remains of complete skeleton became more numerous when the practice of burial of the dead was followed.

The work of prehistoric man gave ample materials to draw an inference regarding the activities and manner of life. Limita­tions in material of early man make the direct line of descent more confusing.

The time and place when modern man first originated are controversial. The earliest anthropoids, Parapithecus, Propliopithecus, etc., (represented by the remains of jaws) were discovered from the Oligocene bed of Egypt.

During Miocene period the fossils of anthropoids showed considerable diver­sity, some possessing prehuman features may have evolved into human line and others leading toward the great apes. An anthropoid fossil, Dryopithecus is re­garded to stand close to the point of divergence.

Primitive Hominids:

Discoveries of remains of prehistoric species and races will give an idea of human evolution. The major forms, as re­corded uptil date, are as follows (Fig. 1.28).

Australopithecus, Zinjanthropus, etc., represent the primitive Hominids:

The remains of these hominids (Austra­lopithecus, Zinjanthropus, etc.) were disco­vered in Mid-Pleistocene or earlier in Transvaal, South Africa in 1925 and in Olduvai Gorge Tanganyika in 1959. Many skulls and some skeletal parts have been discovered.

The characteristics are:

(a) The skull was smaller in size than that of modern man.

(b) The volume of brain ranged from 600-700 c.c.

(c) The face was protruding and the forehead was higher than that in apes.

(d) The brow ridges were pro­minent.

(e) The occipital condyles were ventrally placed and the rear part of the skull was rounded.

(f) The jaws were large with small incisors, large and spatu- late canines, large cheek teeth.

(g) The ilia of pelvis were wider and the limb bones were slender.

(h) The total height was about 5 feet. They used simple chipped pebble tools.

Pithecanthropus erectus—Java man:

Fragmentary remains of Pithecanthropus erectus were discovered in Mid-Pleistocene of Solo River near Trimil, Java since 1891 up to 1945.

The characteristic features are:

(a) The skull was flattish-topped and projected behind.

(b) The brow ridges were solid above the orbits.

(c) The brain volume was 775-900 c.c. The imprint of brain possibly indicated the ability of speech.

(d) The jaws were protruding.

(e) The teeth were arranged in even curve but the canines were projecting.

(f) The femur reflected its upright posture.

(g) The height was about 5 feet. No associated tools were found.

Pithecanthropus (Sinanthropus) pekinensis —Peking man:

The remains of skulls and parts, jaws with teeth and some limb bones of Pithecanthropus (Sinanthropus) pekinensis were discovered up to 1943 from the Mid-Pleis­tocene caves at Choukoutien (South-west of Peking), China.

The noted features are:

(a) The skull was small and the brain volume was 850-1300 c.c.

(b) The skull was low-vaulted.

(c) The brow ridges were stout.

(d) The imprint of brain sug­gested the ability of speech.

Various implements of quartz and other rocks were discovered. The hearths showed the use of fire.

Homo habilis—Transitional man:

The remains of this species were dis­covered in Pleistocene bed in East Africa. They were the makers of crudely chipped stone tools. They represent an intermediate stage between the Australopithecus and Pithecanthropus erectus. The mean capacity of brain was 680 c.c.

Homo heidelbergensis—Heidelberg man:

One lower jaw of Homo heidelbergensis was discovered in 1907 in sand pit at Mauer near Heidelberg (Germany). The remains were of Mid-Pleistocene period. The jaw was massive with very broad ascending ramus indicating powerful jaw muscles. There was no chin. The teeth were stout and the canines were not enlarged. Asso­ciated tools were not found.

Homo neanderthalensis—Neanderthal man:

The remains of Homo neanderthalensis to­talling well over one hundred individuals were discovered from the late Pleistocene bed (before or during first Ice Age) in Spain and North Africa to Ethiopia, Mesopotamia. Southern Russia, Gilbraltar, Neanderthal Valley near Dusseldorf (Ger­many) from 1848-1861.

The Neanderthal man had:

(a) massive long and flat-topped skull.

(b) The forehead was receding.

(c) The brow ridges were heavy.

(f) The average brain volume was 1450 c.c.

(g) The jaws were protruding but the chin was receding.

(i) The attachment sites of occipital region of skull and the cervical vertebrae indi­cated the existence of powerful neck mus­cles.

(j) The limb bones were heavy and slightly curved.

(k) The height of males was about 5 feet 3-5 inches.

The females were shorter than males. The Neanderthal man used to live in caves and rock shelters with stone stools and weapons. There was evidence of use of fire. The estimated age was about 100,000 years.

Homo sapiens – Cro- Magnon man:

The remains of Cro-Magnon man of estimated age about 30,000-13,000 b.c. were found in late Pleistocene (close of last Ice Age and later) bed of France to Czechoslovakia, East Africa and Eastern Asia.

The distinguishing features are:

(a) The skull was long and high with no brow ridges.

(b) The face resembled the modern man.

(c) The occipital region of skull was rounded.

(d) The chin was well developed.

(e) The average brain volume was about 1590 c.c.

(f) The height of males was about 5 feet 10 inches.

They were cave-dweller. They had stone implements and they could make wall paintings and sculpture.

4. Miscellaneous Remains of Man:

Three jaws and skull fragment of Ternifine man were found in Ternifine and Casablanca, North Africa in 1952. These Mid-Pleistocene re­mains resembled Heidelberg and Peking materials.

Remains of 13 individuals including complete skeleton were discovered in Mount Carmel, Palestine (Israel). These upper Pleistocene remains showed characteristics of both Neanderthal and modern man, but slightly taller.

The remains (occi­pital and parietal bones) were found in Swanscombe, Kent, England in 1936- 1937. They were of Mid-Pleistocene age. The bones were thick and the brain vo­lume was estimated to be about 1300 c.c.

(D) Solo man (Homo soloensis):

The remains of eleven partial skulls and two femurs of Pleistocene age were discovered from Solo River near Ngandong, Java in 1933. They had low forehead and heavy brow ridges. They exhibited many features which were more modern.

(E) Rhodesian man (Homo rhodesiensis):

The remains of Rhodesian man of late Pleistocene age were found in 1921 at Broken Hill, Rhodesia (South Africa). A similar skull was also discovered in 1953 in Capetown. The remains consisted of one skull, upper jaw, parts of limb bones, pelvis, sacrum, etc. The brain volume was about 1300 c.c. The characteristics of face, brow ridges, orbits, palate and limb bones were much like those of modern man.

The other fragmen­tary remains of man include that of:

(i) skull fragments of Pithecanthropus robustus from Java (1938)

(ii) portions of a huge jaw of Meganthropus palaeojavanicus from Java (1941) and

(iii) three huge molars (five to six times the bulk of those of the present day’s man) of Gigantopilhecus blacki in 1935-1939.

These molars were possibly collected from caves in South China.

5. Biological Trends in Human Evolution:

The evolution of man involves the following significant changes:

(a) Switch over from the four gait apes to the bipedal gait of man.

(b) Perfection of hand for tool making.

(c) Increase of intelligence and size of brain.

(d) Change of diet from fruits, hard nuts, hard roots to softer foods.

(e) Increase in their ability to commu­nicate with others and development of community behaviour.

6. General Consideration on Human Ancestry:

Since the discovery of the ‘missing link’ between apes and men in 1894 by a Dutch anatomist, E. Dubois, a large num­ber of fossils of man have been brought to the limelight. All the newer finds as well as the older ones are being interpreted by different authorities in different ways. The scientists of the past described the fossils in terms of ‘individual types’ rather than ‘populations’.

They gave a scientific name of their new find and placed it in a sepa­rate species and in a separate genus, when­ever applicable. But the modern Anthro­pologists and Zoologists are trying hard to discard nearly all the names of ‘genera’ which were coined in the past.

They recognise that the ancestors of man have progressed mainly along a single evolu­tionary line and at times this line became branched -to give two or three related species (Fig. 1.29). During the past 600,000 years it consisted of a single species having a common gene pool with a number of races.

The remains of ‘Southern apes’ (Austra­lopithecus) have been claimed to be fore­runners of man. These creatures were more like apes than man in respect of their intelligence and way of life. They could walk erect and the architecture of limb and body skeleton was much like those of modern man.

An intermediate fossil form, Homo habilis, an intermediate form between Australopithecus and the ancient species of man (Java and Peking man), was discovered from the same bed containing East African Australopithecus.

This fact gave evidence that the Australopi­thecus was the direct ancestor of man and they persisted side by side with their derivatives—the earliest men. The transi­tion from apes to man was a gradual process and the series of fossils portrays a gradual but complete transition from apes to modern man.

Comparative studies on morphology and chemistry of protein have proved that Homo sapiens, gorilla and chimpanzee arc closely related to each other than other anthropoid apes like orangutan and gibbon.

Homo sapient, gorilla and chimpanzee have possibly, evolved from a group of apes common in Eurasia and Africa during Miocene. The immediate ancestor of Homo, as stated earlier, was the Australopithecus which lived between Pliocene to Pleistocene in North Africa and Eurasia.

The earliest man, Pithecanthropus erectus, was widespread in Eurasia during Pleistocene possibly evol­ved into modern man by series of gradual stages without splitting into separate spe­cies (Fig. 1.30). The main characteristics which differentiate man from apes evolved at different rates.

The use of tools appears to have evolved first which preceded the increase of size of brain. Both these were accompanied by the change from four- footed gait to bipedal erect posture.


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Watch the video: What Happened Before History? Human Origins


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