How Human Beings Evolved from Our Closest Ancestors

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The Guardian: Neanderthal Cave Art Gibraltar

Episode 2: The Rise of Humanity

The Big History of Civilizations

Craig G Benjamin (2016)

Film Review

This presentation traces the gradual differentiation of human beings from their closest ancestors. Humans belong to the subfamily of Homininae, which includes gorillas, chimpanzees and other bipedal apes. Human beings and chimps share 98.4% of the same genes. Benjamin asserts they’re both descended from the same ancestor 7 million years ago.

According to fossil evidence, primates began walking upright 6.5 million years ago. Some anthropologists attribute this adaptation to a cooling climate that shrank the size of African forests. Standing on two legs allowed early Homininae to see over long savanna grasses and carry food more easily.

A second cooling period 2.5 million years ago possibly favored the rise (via natural selection) of the genus Homo. Most Homo species seem to have used fire for warmth and to scare off predators. Homo habilis, Homo erectus and Homo Neanderthalis are the best known immediate precursors to Homo sapiens.

Homo erectus was the first known species of the genus Homo to stand fully erect (around 1.8 million years ago). They were also the first species to develop semicircular ear canals allowing for running, jumping and dancing.

Early Homo species began migrating out of Africa (mainly to Asia and southern Europe) about 1.7 million years ago, as food shortages led them to follow migrating animals.

The first evidence of symbolic language appeared around 500,000 BC. There are European Neanderthal cave paintings from 200,000 BC suggesting some use of language, collective learning and primitive tools. When members of the species Homo sapiens began migrating out of Africa after 100,000 BP, Neanderthals weren’t able to compete with their superior language, tools and collective planning skills. Archeological evidence suggests their species died out about 40,000 BC.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.