Student Blog: Human Evolution

Introduction

When going to the Natural History Museum, there was a large section of human evolution which explains the timeline of how humans evolved and the different types of Homos (humans).

The Human Evolution is a long-term process in history that took millions of years ago and is still happening and will happen until the end of the human species; it is a change where people originated from apelike ancestors to modern humans. Science proves that people are related to apes and this happened approximately 7 million years ago. 

People have evolved from being Early hominins to Australopithecus and then, finally, modern humans.

Picture taken at the Natural History museum

Hominins lineage

The Hominins lineage is the hominoid tree where the hominins lay, after the split with the chimpanzees and bonobos branch – including all of the other extinct species in the other branches.

Early Hominins – 7 million years ago:

Humans belong to a group known as the ‘hominins’. The oldest human species have lived in Africa for millions of years ago. 

Humans and chimps are closely related, as we share around 98% of our DNA. Chimpanzees and humans gradually descended from a single ancestor, who lived about 7 million years ago.

However, chimps are not hominins as the main characteristic of being a hominin is that they can walk on two legs and have small canines.

Chimpanzees (non-hominins):

  • They have larger canines to help them hunt and eat raw meat.
  • Smaller cranium meaning a smaller brain

Modern Humans (hominins):

  • Larger brains which helps us for problem solving and engage in activities.
  • We have small canines as we do not need to hunt.
Australopithecus:
Image source: Wikipedia

Australopithecus literally means Southern Ape. They are a group of extinct species who are ancestors of the modern humans. They were both human-like and ape-like but had small brains like modern apes. They had other characteristics that would belong more to an ape, but skeletons found from them, show us that they used to walk upright.

Humans:

In the past 2 million years, there have been 8 different species of humans- also known as ‘homos’, such as Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo erectus, etc.  They have evolved from the Australopithecus. This human species have been living in different parts of the world- e.g.: Asia, Africa and Europe.

FACT: Scientists are not sure yet but there might be 2 more possible human ancestors/species

Homo Neanderthalensis are the closest ancient human relatives- they are a type of human, and they were a bit more advanced as they already worked with fire and were the first to bury their dead.

The environment is a significant key driver in human evolution; species could change dramatically because of it after long periods of time.

Example 1: Island Dwarfism

Homos who lived in islands (therefore there were limited resources) had to adapt by evolving into having smaller bodies (after thousands and millions of years) so that their bodies wouldn’t need many resources to survive – these homos were known as ‘Hobbits’.

Example 2: Paranthropus

They evolved from Australopithecus (just like homos) because of climate change. They are also known as ‘Robust Australopithecus’ as they had larger teeth (molars) and a larger jaw while Australopithecus had smaller teeth and jaw.

Image source: wikipedia

Homo Erectus was a specie of human which had a similar proportion of body and limbs to modern humans. They walked and ran like us. They ran quite a lot since they were adapted to endurance so they could run until their prey was tired and was easier to kill. This was a running technique.

FACT: Around 200,000 years ago, humans started creating ornaments and sculptures

How do scientists know?

Scientists analyse the bacteria formed in the teeth of the skeleton’s fossils to understand what those humans used to eat and determine their health (diet).

They use 3D scanning, modelling and reconstruction to display how humans would have looked like and how they would move.

An example of how scientists used these tools (such as technology), is when the oldest human footprint in Europe was found:

The oldest human footprint in Europe

In 2013, in Norfolk, East England, a coastal erosion exposed a trail of footprints, dating around 900,000 years.

These footprints belonged to children and adults around 90cm to 1.7 meters tall.

Scientists used computers and technology to create 3D models of the surface to understand that it was not an animal’s footprint but a human’s one. 

Summary:

At the end of my trip, I learned loads about the different species of humans and how each of them adapted to their environment. I learned how we evolved from being ape-like mammals to modern humans and how we will keep on changing over time and make more fascinating discoveries. It was engrossing to read how we are attached to chimps- we are so connected, yet so different at the same time: like the way do things and the way we reason is different to the way chimps act and understand. There was a drastic change from seven million years ago until now. The fact that scientists can still discover more things (like the oldest human footprint) from thousands and millions of year ago is quite shocking and makes us realize that we will keep on developing our skills and discover even more enthralling findings from our past. 

Written by Zoe, a Year 9 Student at Harris Academy Bromley

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