Human Evolution a Timeline

Lisa Foerster's image for:
"Human Evolution a Timeline"
Image by: 

The evolution of man actually began with the evolution of primates. Primates are one of the oldest of all mammal groups and is traced back 85 million years. Paleontologists believe primates share a common ancestor with bats, this ancestor is believed to have lived in the age of the last dinosaurs. North America was home to the oldest known primates, back when the whole world had a tropical climate. Eventually weather patterns changed and Antarctic ice formed around 40 million years ago. Primates then went extinct everywhere but Africa. The genus Homo is about 2.5 million years old and includes modern man and their close relatives.

Homo habilis is the first species of the Homo genus. He lived from 2.4 million to 1.6 million years ago. He is the least similar to modern man. Homo habilis was short standing around 4 feet 3 inches, he had disproportionately long arms, but had a reduction in the protrusion in the face. His cranial capacity was about half the size of modern mans. Even though he looked very ape like his remains are often found with primitive stone tools. Homo habilis was not a hunter in the beginning and despite his tools was often a staple in the diets of large predators. His tools were used for scavenging, cutting meat from bone, rather than defense or hunting. Homo habilis of course evolved and became a hunter, by learning to craft rock blades and 4 inch flint blades. His voice box was becoming more advanced and that allowed for the variety of speech needed to co-ordinate and communicate during hunts. Homo habilis began in Central Africa, but after honing his skills he moved up in Europe and Asia.

Homo rudolfensis dates back to 1.9 million to 1.6 million years ago. There is only one incomplete skull to represent Homo rudolfensis. Some scientists believe this skull belongs to Homo habilis but a lack of information can not prove this. Not much in know about Homo rudolfensis.

Home georgicus is believed to be a link between Homo habilis and Homo erectus. Homo georgicus was found in Georgia and is about 1.8 million years old. His brain size was half the size of modern man. The males of Homo georgicus were significantly larger than females, which is a primitive trait. He was also quite small, standing around 4 feet tall. Homo georgicus is believed to be the first Homo species to settle in Central and Northern Europe, roughly 800,000 years before Homo erectus.

Homo ergaster nicknamed "working man" lived throughout Eastern and Southern Africa between 1.9 million to 1.4 million years ago. He got his nickname from the tools found with his fossils, like hand axes and cleavers. Homo ergaster was much taller than Homo georgicus, standing at about 6 feet 3 inches. He also had a more straight jawed face and a cranial capacity about 20% larger than Homo georgicus. Males and females of Homo ergaster were also quite closer in size. Charred animal bones have been found with Homo ergaster, suggesting he used fire creatively. He was also the first Homo species to develop shorter arms and longer legs, giving him a more modern look.

Homo erectus originated in Africa, around 2 million years ago he migrated out and dispersed throughout most of the Old World. The fossilized remains of Homo erectus dating 1.8 million to 1 million years old have been found in Africa, Europe, Indonesia, Vietnam, and China. The forehead of Homo erectus is less sloping and he has much smaller teeth, giving him a striking resemblance to modern man. His brain was about 75% the size of modern man. Homo erectus stood about 5 feet 10 inches and was extremely strong, much stronger than modern man. Males were typically 20-30% larger than females. Homo erectus used a wide variety of tools and developed more sophisticated ones as he progressed. He learned to chip the stone on both sides to form two cutting edges on his stone tools. It has been suggested by some scientists that Homo erectus was the first Homo species to use rafts to travel over oceans, yet this concept is extremely controversial in the scientific community. Evidence discovered in 1984 has shown that Homo erectus was not capable of producing sounds comparable to modern man, but their language was extremely more complex than the chimpanzee. Homo erectus probably lived in small band societies, and cared for their weaker companions. Scientists believe that Homo erectus was the first Homo species to use controlled fire, regularly.

Homo cepranensis is estimated to be between 800,000 and 900,000 years old. The only evidence he existed is one skull cap. Scientists have studied the cranial features and believe Homo cepranensis is a cross between Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis. There simply is not enough fossils to make an analysis yet.

Homo antecessor is the oldest Homo fossil ever found in Europe, he is thought to be older than 780-857 thousand years. His brain size is roughly the same as Homo erectus. A site in Atapuerca, Spain held six individuals, found here were numerous bones with cuts on them, which indicates that Homo antecessor could have practiced cannibalism. Homo antecessor stood between 5 and a half to 6 feet tall. The males weighed around 200 hundred pounds. He had a low forehead and lacked a chin. The tools Homo antecessor used are quite advanced a stone carved knife was found with some remains.

Homo heidelbergensis walked the earth roughly 600,000 to 250,000 years ago. He was first discovered in Germany, and was then later found all over Europe. Homo heidelbergensis had a cranial volume of 1100-1400cc, modern mad has a cranial volume of 1350cc's. He stood about 6 feet tall and was heavily muscled. He was an advanced hunter taking down large prey. Base on scientists recent findings it is believed that Homo heidelbergensis may have been the first Homo to bury their dead. His tools were basically the same as Homo antecessor.

Homo neanderthalensis also known as Neanderthal Man, is thought by many to be the last link in the chain. Some scientist even believe that Neanderthal did not die out but interbred with modern humans and were simply absorbed. The oldest fossils of Neanderthal are 350,000 years ago, they survived until 30,000 years ago. Neanderthal co-existed with modern humans for 15,000 years. The Neanderthal was well adapted to the cold, he was short and robust with a large nose. His cranial capacity was larger than modern man's. Male Neanderthal's stood 5 foot 5 inches, females reached 5 foot, on average. At first scientists thought Neanderthal was not capable of speech, then in 1983 a small vocal bone was found. This bone is identical to the one found in modern man, therefore Neanderthal was very capable of speaking. The tools of Neanderthal Man are well advanced, hammers used for making tools have been found along with spears with long wooden shafts. Neanderthal Man is know to have buried his dead, flower pollen has been found with the dead which points to ritual burial. Most of the flower pollens found at the grave site are know to have "Traditional" medical uses. Neanderthal also buried their dead with bison bones and tools.

Modern Man was the next thing to come along. Some scientists think that Homo sapiens wiped out the Neanderthal Man, and some think they interbred together combining to become one. No evidence has been found to prove either theory. The time-line of human evolution is fascinating. We are able to find out where we came from with the help of the fossil record. The similarities between each Homo species is striking, and is undeniably evolution at work.

More about this author: Lisa Foerster

From Around the Web