How have humans influenced evolution?
History: the evolution of man
The waves of the sea gently rush against the beach when the small group gets up from their camp in the morning. The slender men and women quickly collect what they need for their breakfast: a few mussels from the sea, fruit from trees. The sun was still low when the leader gave the signal to leave. Come on!
There are only a few people who set off on this day 100,000 years ago and headed for Asia on the coast of present-day Egypt. Maybe 20 men, women and children. One can only guess what drives them: Is it the search for food? Or a quarrel with other clans? Maybe they are just curious to explore a new area. One thing is certain: for the first time, "modern humans" are leaving their homeland, Africa. People who already look like we do today are setting out to discover the world.
It was a long way to get there
When did human history begin? That is still unknown. What is certain is that our early ancestors lived in Africa and shared ancestors with the monkeys. The oldest human skulls that researchers have discovered to date are around seven million years old and were found in Chad, central Africa. The skull bones suggest a small brain, just like a chimpanzee, but the canine teeth are already significantly shorter. And the protruding mouth is missing in the flat face.
"Australopithecus" and "Homo"
So many relatives of ours have evolved from this ancestor to this day that even researchers lose track of things: the older ancestors were often baptized "Australopithecus", that is, "the southern monkey". Experts have given the species similar to us the name "Homo" - human.
We ourselves are called Homo sapiens sapiens, which translates as "the knowing, knowing person". How did the new species come about? In East Africa, where parts of the continent rub against each other, mountains towered up millions of years ago.
In the hot and humid west of these mountains, our ancestors shimmy from tree to tree. Their relatives in the east, on the other hand, where the climate is drier and cooler, have to adapt to a seemingly endless savannah dominated by prehistoric lions and cheetahs.
At just over a meter tall, our ancestor was an inconspicuous resident there. It feeds mainly on plants. Sometimes he rushes with the vultures on carrion that is left with fed up predators.
The grass of the savannah is often over a meter high. Whoever overlooks it has a better chance of survival here. Perhaps this is why our ancestors stand up. In any case, in 1974 in Ethiopia scientists discovered the three million year old skeleton of a female whose pelvic bones indicate an upright gait. The researchers named the female Lucy. To this day it is probably the most famous skeleton in the world.
Walking upright has one great advantage:
Our ancestors now have their hands free! Slowly, over many hundreds of thousands of years, they learn to use the gripping devices. At first they might collect stones to smash bones of found animals with them and suck out the nutritious marrow.
Later they make more complicated tools: they cut stones into coarse knives that can be used to chop up food; Wooden clubs and pointed wedges are suitable as weapons. Weak bipeds can protect themselves better and better from predators and kill animals themselves.
How the tools are now changing your life! Until then, the inhabitants of the steppe had to run fast to survive. Intelligence is now required: if you are smart and can use tools, you will get meat. That in turn is high in fat and protein, which promote brain growth - and with more brain, you can come up with even better tools!
The thinking apparatus of our ancestors is gradually growing: Lucy managed to get by with 400 to 500 cubic centimeters of brain mass, as much as a chimpanzee has today. Your descendant, Homo erectus (translated: the upright man), who appeared almost two million years ago, is already a mega-brain from the Stone Age at around 1,000 cubic centimeters.
This 1.65 meter tall and 65 kilogram heavy prehistoric man becomes the first globetrotter. It settled 1.7 million years ago in the Caucasus and Java. Some researchers believe that he could even build ocean-going rafts and use them to cross over from Indonesia to Australia!
The Neanderthal man
While Homo erectus still lives in Asia, an impressive descendant of his is already conquering cold Europe: the Neanderthals are the most powerful of our relatives. Not only does he have 30 percent more muscles than a modern person, his knee joints are as thick as grapefruit! A rough chunk - one might think.
But researchers now see him as a primeval Einstein: because behind the bulging eyebrows hides a 1,500 cubic centimeter thinking apparatus (we have around 1,400 today). A great guy! The Neanderthal kills birds in flight with throwing sticks, which he hurls into ascending swarms.
He buries his dead - and is surprisingly vain: it is not uncommon for men and women to decorate their thick necks and massive hands with fox teeth, ivory beads and finger rings. Gourmets sizzle their booty on skewers over the campfire.
The art of early humans
Scientists conclude from the bones of the inner ear that the Neanderthals must also have had perfect hearing. Maybe he would write symphonies today. But then around 40,000 years ago a competitor immigrated to Europe who will seal his future - precisely the modern person who left Africa 100,000 years ago!
Now a tough struggle begins that has lasted for millennia: Neanderthals and modern humans are fighting over hunting grounds. Every now and then the neighbors are likely to have thrown stones and spears at each other. Perhaps they will father children together - but not often, biologists can prove that today with genetic tests.
Then the immigrant suddenly developed unimagined skills: artistic cave paintings were created around 30,000 years ago. The previously primitive journeyman flutes on swan bones, burns clay figures, fishes with harpoons and sews with bone needles! Did the Neanderthals avoid the competition? Or whether he couldn't cope with the change in climate? In any case, the last of the colossi retreat to today's Spain. There they die out around 27,000 years ago. Homo sapiens sapiens has finally taken possession of the world.
Australopithecus anamensis - translated this ancestor is called "Südaffe am See". It is a mixture of ape-like and human-like properties, because its skull is reminiscent of great apes that lived millions of years earlier. But his shin is more similar to the genus Homo, which appeared much later. This Australopithecus could already walk upright.
Video: Australopithecus anamensis, East Africa, 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago
Australopithecus afarensis - This prehistoric man once walked through the ashes that covered the ground after a volcanic eruption. Scientists discovered their traces 3.6 million years later. Their appearance was reconstructed from bone finds.
Video: Australopithecus afarensis, East Africa, 3.9 to 3 million years ago
Kenyanthropus platyops - The "Kenya people with the flat face" discovered a team around the paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey in 1999 at Lake Turkana. More precisely: its heavily crushed skull. The researchers recognized such an unusual combination of features in the find.
For example, the broad, flat face and the relatively small molars - that they classified him as a separate species of pre-human beings. Some scientists, on the other hand, consider the skull to be so destroyed that it can hardly be determined.
Video: Kenyanthropus platyops, East Africa, 3.5 million years ago
Australopithecus africanus - Like the other Australopithecus species, the "African southern monkey" belongs to the "graceful" Australopithecines because of its relatively light body structure, especially its skull and teeth. He lived in the light forest areas of today's South Africa.
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