Where Did Human Beings Come From? 7 Million Years of Human Evolution Visualized in Six Minutes

One vul­gar con­cep­tion of human evo­lu­tion holds that we “come from mon­keys.” You don’t have to be a bona fide evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gist to know that’s not quite how we cur­rent­ly under­stand it to have hap­pened, but how clear­ly do you grasp the real sto­ry? The ani­ma­tion from the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry above goes over sev­en mil­lion years of evo­lu­tion in a mere six min­utes, and it’s cer­tain­ly not a straight line down from “mon­keys” to us. The video does, how­ev­er, start its sto­ry with apes, and specif­i­cal­ly chim­panzees, “our clos­est liv­ing rel­a­tives” with whom “we share a com­mon ances­tor that lived sev­en mil­lion years ago.”

But we once had “much clos­er rel­a­tives, hominins, who are no longer liv­ing.” These we know about through the fos­sils they left behind in Africa, from which the first known hominin emerged those sev­en mil­lion years ago. Dif­fer­ent bones from dif­fer­ent species of hominins found else­where on the con­ti­nent sug­gest small teeth, upright walk­ing, and bipedal­ism, some of the qual­i­ties that dis­tin­guish humans from apes.

And though hominins may have walked upright, they also climbed trees, but even­tu­al­ly lost the grasp­ing feet need­ed to do so. Lat­er they com­pen­sat­ed with the very human-like devel­op­ment of mak­ing and using stone tools. Two mil­lion years ago, the well-known Homo erec­tus, with their large brains, long legs, and dex­trous hands, made the famous migra­tion out of Africa.

We know that by 1.2 mil­lion years there­after Homo erec­tus’ brains had grown larg­er still, fueled by new cook­ing tech­niques. Only about 200,000 years ago do we, Homo sapi­ens, enter the pic­ture, but not long after, we inter­breed with the var­i­ous hominin species already in exis­tence as we spread out­ward to fill “every geo­graph­ic niche” of the Earth. Ulti­mate­ly, hominins could­n’t keep up: “Cli­mate pres­sures and com­pe­ti­tion with Homo sapi­ens may have wiped them out.” Now that we’ve seen their sto­ry and ours reca­pit­u­lat­ed, let’s pour one out for the once-mighty hominin who pre­ced­ed us, lived along­side us, and influ­enced us in ways genet­ic and oth­er­wise — at least if it has­n’t giv­en us too much pause won­der­ing when the evo­lu­tion­ar­i­ly inevitable suc­ces­sor to Homo sapi­ens will appear in our midst.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch 570 Mil­lion Years of Evo­lu­tion on Earth in 60 Sec­onds

550 Mil­lion Years of Human Evo­lu­tion in an Illus­trat­ed Flip­book

Carl Sagan Explains Evo­lu­tion in an Eight-Minute Ani­ma­tion

New Ani­mat­ed Web Series Makes the The­o­ry of Evo­lu­tion Easy to Under­stand

Richard Dawkins Explains Why There Was Nev­er a First Human Being

10 Mil­lion Years of Evo­lu­tion Visu­al­ized in an Ele­gant, 5‑Foot Long Info­graph­ic from 1931

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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