Discovery Science: Earth – Evolution of Humankind: the Beginning

Biology – Evolution of Humankind: the Beginning

The origin of human evolution lies in Africa, where paleoanthropologists discovered the oldest skull bones ever to be found. These are about four million years old and point toward the early ancestors of modern humans.

In 1974, scientists in Ethiopia found the almost complete, now world-famous skeleton of a female pithecanthropid, the early ancestor of humans. Lucy, as she is named, belongs to the genus Australopithecus, meaning “southern ape.” Their skull had a sloping forehead, a protruding brow, and a flat nose.

However, in contrast to recent apes, the Australopithecus did not possess large canine teeth and therefore the so-called “monkey gap” was absent. Lucy’s bones are about three million years old and provide clear evidence of an upright gait. This gave the savanna inhabitants of the time obvious survival advantages, such as when searching for food or detecting approaching enemies.

Now that hands were no longer needed for locomotion, they could be increasingly used for other tasks. Presumably, one develop- mental line extended out from Australopithecus and led to the human beings of today. One of the first species of the genus Homo was Homo habilis, meaning “handy man” or “skillful person.” Homo habilis lived more than two million years ago and was already using simple stone tools, such as chisels and scrapers.

Homo erectus succeeded Homo habilis relatively quickly. With their body proportions and a height of more than 59 inches (150 cm), Homo erectus already resembled humans as we know them today. As the first hominid, Homo erectus migrated from Africa to Europe and Asia. In Europe, the species Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man) existed around 160,000 years ago.

The first Homo sapiens appeared about 200,000 years ago in Africa, and later encountered the Neanderthals in Europe. Homo sapiens sapiens spread over the Middle East and Balkan regions around 35,000 years ago at the latest. Archaeological evidence shows that the early Homo species lived in caves, hunted big game, and wore animal skin and fur.


Footprints prove it: Bipedalism places Australopithecus into a direct, monophyletic line with modern humans. Over the course of evolution, the anatomy increasingly adapted to an
upright gait.

The pelvis became broader and lifted forward, and the spinal column formed into a double-S shape, acting as shock absorber. The hind extremities extended and became legs capable of running. The large toe became shorter and was no longer abduct- able as it is in apes, which can use their toes as gripping tools


THE BRAIN volume of Australopithe- cus. 24.4 and 42.7 cubic inches, (400 and 700 cm3) is comparable to that of today’s chimpanzees or bonobos, 24.4 cubic inches (400 cm3).

Humans have a brain volume of 85.4 cubic inches.