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Online Course for Teachers: Teaching Evolution

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SESSION 5: How Did Humans Evolve? Is Evolution Still Happening?

Explain Part A: Origins of Humans

Screen grab from the Origins of  Humankind Web activity, showing an evolutionary timeline.

Human evolution is believed to have occurred over the past six million years. As you explore 14 hominid species in the Origins of Humankind Web activity, jot down the answers to these questions:


When did bipedalism evolve in time (mya)? Which species was the first early bipedal hominid? What specific evidence supports bipedalism for early hominids? Which early hominid fossils provide the strongest evidence of bipedalism?


When did the first evidence of tool use appear? In what species?


Which was the first hominid to leave evidence of culture? What clues did hominids leave behind that reflected their cognitive abilities?


What cultural adaptations allowed Homo erectus to expand beyond tropical and subtropical environments into the cooler climate of the temperate zone?


Which hominids coexisted in time? Why and how do you think this was possible?

Origins of Humankind

Taking it back to your classroom.

For a classroom activity that uses the Origins of Humankind Web feature to create a phylogenetic tree of human ancestors, see Student Lesson 5, Activity 2 -- A Tree Full of Ancestors.

New technologies have allowed paleontologists to reexamine earlier fossil finds. Recently scientists were able to recover mitochondrial DNA from Neanderthal skeletons. That molecular evidence, based on a very small sample, differed from modern human DNA and suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans probably did not interbreed. There are still many questions about the details of the human phylogeny, especially with ongoing announcements of new species, some of which are believed to occupy new branches on an already bushy evolutionary tree. In paleontology, as in any scientific field, we need to reexamine and revise old hypotheses as new evidence emerges.


Next: Explain Part B: Chimps and Humans

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