human 10YOU!

You are part of the wild and wonderful family of life!

Homo sapiens evolved as a separate species some 300,000 years ago.

At that time, we were just one of many Hominid species.

Evolution: How did Hominids turn into Modern Humans?

Up until now we’ve focused on the evolution of physical anatomy. We’ve seen how the major parts of the human body can all be traced back to ancient ancestors. When we reach the dawn of human history, another important factor comes into play - the evolution of human culture.

In order to understand our origins we need to look at both the evolution of our bodies and the evolution of our minds and culture. Many researchers feel that a crucial turning point in human evolution was when early people learned how to control fire.

The evolution of hominids accelerated through the control of fire and the cooking of meat, which led to rapidly increasing brain size and the ability to create improved tools. At some point, language also developed so that humans could pass along vital information to each other as well as to generations that followed.

Humans: Fire 2.0!

Modern humans continue the ancient tradition of gathering around a campfire.
Modern humans continue the ancient tradition of gathering around a campfire.

Many scientists believe that the ability to use fire was key to our development as a species and helped us to advance within the animal kingdom.

Fire helped protect our ancestors from dangerous predators like lions and cave bears.

As hominids evolved into modern humans, the use of fire began to be more sophisticated. Our ancestors learned how to use fire to cook food and that made a huge difference in evolution.

Humans: Cooking and Brains

Cooked meat is easier to chew and digest. The extra calories fed our hungry brains and helped them expand to our modern-brain size.

Humans: Around the Campfire

Fire, of course, also kept people warm. They could gather around the fire to tell stories, drawing the group closer and passing along knowledge.

Humans: Language

Humans not only speak but also read and write language using symbols.
Humans not only speak but also read and write language using symbols

Which brings us to another landmark in human development: language.

Because spoken words don’t fossilize, we can’t determine precisely when language appeared on the scene, but we can speculate that it may have evolved to help with hunting (“You go over there while we surround the prey”) and gathering (“Look for red berries”).

Vervet monkeys have different warning cries to signal different threats (one call is for snakes, another for eagles); this may be a clue to how humans developed the basis of language.

Humans: On Top of the World

Modern humans, of course, have evolved into the dominant species on the planet.

Humans live on every continent, we number well over 7 billion and we have the immense power to severely damage the world’s ecosystems–though we also have the ability to learn and change our behavior.

With great power comes great responsibility but also great opportunity. It remains to be seen just how wise Homo sapiens ultimately are.

What do You have in Common with Other Humans?

Genetic differences between individual humans is very small, on average only about 0.1%.

A list of human universals, or cultural practices–such as language, using tools, caring for children–that are shared by all known human communities.

Human brain vs. other primates: What makes us human? Is it our big brains? Our ability to walk on two legs? To make tools? To make fire.

Human relatedness/We are all family

Humans vs. chimps

Genetic differences human/other primates, org chart of primates

Humans as great apes, differences

NOVA: Becoming Human (50 minutes)