The evolution of humankind has long been a subject of fascination for people. Many expeditions have been launched to find the answers, each success leading to more questions and theories. These expeditions have traced the beginnings of human evolution to the continent of Africa, where many finds have helped to trace the origins of the human species. In 1974, what would become known as the oldest human fossil was found in Ethiopia by Professor Donald Johanson and Tom Gray…
After assembling the bones that were found, determining the gender to be female, she was dubbed with the name Lucy and classified as Australopithecus afarensis. While she was found to have many of the characteristics of a chimpanzee, although her structure proved her to be bipedal, and she “walked slightly bow legged” (Lambert 99).. Lucy is estimated at around three million years old. Anything older than that has eluded experts, as no fossil evidence has yet to be found. Australopithecines are differentiated from the next step in the chain of human evolution by looking at a few different traits.
The brains of these ancestors of the human race were very small, and during their period of existence, grew very little. Their faces were ape-like, their cheekbones quite pronounced and their jaws jutted forward, much like apes. Their teeth indicated more of a vegetarian diet, and “the enamel of the molars was incredibly thick” (Angela 64). Also, the males of that species were quite a bit larger than the females. The next step down the path of human evolution is the species known as Homo habilis, or “skilled man. ” It was around 2.
2 million years ago that this species first made an appearance, This species may or may not be a descendant of Australopithecus, but Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis Page 2 of 4 they were certainly a more evolved people. The brains were larger, the faces less ape-like, the teeth more like those of the people of today, and there are signs that these people ore permanently in an upright position than the Australopithecines. While the Australopithecines were mostly vegetarian, Homo habilis appears to have been more dependent on meat.
They most likely started as scavengers, watching for vultures and others in order to find their meat. However, this would have evolved into a hunting life, requiring an increased need for tools and the ability to put together complex strategies for hunting. Mental capabilities became at least as important as physical, which their increased brain size shows. It was perhaps 1. 6 to 1. 8 million years ago that we find the appearance of Homo erectus. This species marks the first evidence of people migrating, as evidence of erectus is found not only in Africa, but also in Europe and Asia.
It also marks the first time in human evolution that the capacity for language is found. Homo erectus was a species that certainly different than its predecessors. It was taller, and the spine was different as well. The actual structure resembled modern man more than had those species that came before, although they were likely more flexible, which is indicated by the presence of six floating ribs instead of modern man’s two. The brow was heavier, and the forehead flatter. The eyes were likely set farther apart, and the mandible very large.
It was around 300,000 years ago that Homo sapiens neanderthalensis made its appearance. The first fossils of this species, “a thick skullcap with a sloping forehead, and several limb bones,” (Johanson, Johanson, and Edgar) were found in the Neander Valley in West Germany in 1856. . This species shows a definite progression toward the Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis Page 3 of 4 human of today, although still had its differences. The biggest physical difference between neanderthalensis and those previous to it was found in the size of the brain.
The volume increased by significant amount, although the physical appearance was only slightly changed. They were quite a bit stockier than modern man, and were very muscular. They averaged around five feet tall in height, with short forearms and legs. Unlike those before them, the brow of the Neanderthals was arched and not flat. The skull itself was quite large, indicating a large brain size, and there was a bump at the back of the skull. However, while the skull was thicker than those of humans today, it was thinner than that of those who came before.
The species of neanderthalensis was the most intelligent up to that point, which can be seen in the way they adapted to their environment and found food. Research shows that they had weapons that were far more advanced than those of previous species, and they skillfully adapted their hunting strategies depending upon the prey they hunted. They also adapted tools suited to the skinning of the animal and the tanning of its hide, although research shows that they did not exhibit much advancement in this area throughout their existence.
The Neanderthals were quite a social people as well. Evidence shows that the members of Neanderthal society helped and supported each other, which led to the survival of people who would not have lasted in the times before them. The group became important during this time, which can be seen most vividly by the new practice of burying the dead, something that had not before been done. In the times before, bodies had been left to the scavengers, but the new social traits of the Neanderthal changed this practice. Many graves have been found, some with burial goods sharing the grave with
Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis Page 3 of 4 the deceased. Leakey states that “Self-awareness and death-awareness flow together” (270), and postulates that this might well be a “continuation of the language development we infer for earlier periods in the record” (270). These facts indicate a definite progression toward the more advanced species that followed it. Regardless, the concern for the fate of the dead was a far cry from the beliefs of those who came before, exhibiting the social, and possibly religious, evolution of the species.
It is in the disappearance of the Neanderthal were the biggest mystery comes. Any traces of these people just suddenly disappeared sooner than 35,000 years ago, and all that can be found after that are Homo sapiens sapiens. There is no evidence that demonstrates how and why they disappeared; they simply did so. Some postulate that some catastrophic fate befell the species, while others insist that they simply evolved into the final stage of human evolution. Perhaps someday evidence will be found proving one theory or another, but until then, we can only wonder at their fate.
The evolution of the human being from the Australopithecines to what we are today was a long road with many questions still to be answered. It is possible that other species of humans may be found to fill in the blanks between the ancestors of the human race, but it is just as possible that we will never know. There are still questions to be answered about the evidence that has already been found, and the more new fossils that are discovered, the better the chances at finding the truth to the great mysteries regarding the ancestors of today’s modern human.
Angela, Piero and Alberto Angela. The Extraordinary Story of Human Origins. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1993. Johanson, Donald, Lenora Johanson, and Blake Edgar. Ancestors: In Search of Human Origins. New York: Villard Books, 1994. Lambert, David and the Diagram Group. The Field Guide to Early Man. New York: Facts On File, Inc. , 1987. Leakey, Richard and Roger Lewin. Origins Reconsidered. New York: Doubleday, 1992.