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Origins of Humankind
The Hominid Family Tree

Orrorin tugenensis
(6 mya)

Ardipithecus ramidus
(4.4 mya)

Australipithecus anamensis
(4.2 to 3.9 mya)

Australipithecus afarensis
(3.6 to 2.9 mya)

Kenyanthropus platyops
(3.5 to 3.3 mya)

Australipithecus africanus
(3 to 2 mya)

Australipithecus aethiopicus
(2.7 to 2.3 mya)

Australipithecus garhi
(2.5 mya)

Australipithecus boisei
(2.3 to 1.4 mya)

Homo habilis
(2.3 to 1.6 mya)

Homo erectus
(1.8 to 0.3 mya)

Australipithecus robustus
(1.8 to 1.5 mya)

Homo heidelbergensis
(600 to 100 tya)

Homo neanderthalensis
(250 to 30 tya)

Homo sapiens
(100 tya to present)

mya = millions of years ago        tya = thousands of years ago


Homo sapiens (100,000 years ago to present)

Species Description:

The modern form of Homo sapiens first appeared about 100,000 years ago. This species is distinguished by large brain size, a forehead that rises sharply, eyebrow ridges that are very small, a prominent chin, and lighter bone structure than H. heidelbergensis.

Even in those 100,000 years, anatomical trends toward smaller molars and decreased bone mass can be seen in the Homo sapiens fossil record. For example, contemporary humans in Europe and Asia have bones that are 20 to 30 percent thinner and lighter than those of upper Paleolithic humans dating from about 30,000 years ago.

About 40,000 years ago, with the appearance of the Cro-Magnon culture, tools became markedly more sophisticated, incorporating a wider variety of raw materials such as bone and antler. They also included new implements for making clothing, engravings, and sculptures. Fine artwork, in the form of decorated tools, beads, ivory carvings of humans and animals, clay figurines, musical instruments, and cave paintings, appeared over the next 20,000 years.

Fossil Finds:

Qafzeh IX
Estimated age: 100,000 to 90,000 years
Location: Qafzeh Cave, Israel

This specimen is one of about 21 individuals found in Qafzeh Cave. The skull and nearly complete skeleton that accompanied it belonged to a male Homo sapiens who was about 20 years old when he died. It was found buried next to the remains of a small child.

Klasies River mouth
Estimated age: 90,000 years
Location: Klasies River, South Africa

The name of this find refers to the mouth of the Klasies River where the fossils were found. This is the best-dated South African specimen from the Upper Pleistocene. If all of these fossil fragments belong to H. sapiens, they demonstrate that early members of our species varied in size more than contemporary humans.

Cro-Magnon 1

Cro-Magnon 1
Estimated age: 28,000 years
Date of discovery: 1868
Location: Les Ezyies, France

This specimen is a skull that is nearly identical to that of a modern human. It came from a site that has yielded a half dozen skeletons, along with stone tools, carved reindeer antlers, ivory pendants, and shells.

Evidence of Culture:

Aurignacian stone tools
Estimated age: 40,000 years
Location: La Ferrassie, France

This technology consists of sharp-edged blade tools used for cutting and scraping. Homo sapiens employed a wide variety of materials during this period, including stone, ivory, bone, and antler, to create knives, scrapers, and spear points. People also began using these materials to make non-utilitarian items, such as jewelry.

Magdalenian stone tools
Estimated age: 15,000 years
Location: Le Morin, France

This technology produced the widest variety of tools yet known, including bone needles, harpoons, and microliths (small blades 1-3 cm). The people who employed the technology were reindeer hunters during the last Ice Age. When the glaciers receded, the culture and the industry dissipated.

Cro-Magnon culture
Estimated age: 32,000 years
Location: Vogelherd, Germany

Cro-Magnon people were nomadic hunter/gatherers and had elaborate rituals for hunting, birth, and death. Artifacts they left behind include carvings of people and animals. Symbolic representation through adornment of the dead also became more common during this period.

Chauvet cave art

Chauvet cave art
Estimated age: 32,000 years
Date of discovery: 1994
Location: Ardeche Region, France

Chauvet Cave holds some of the oldest and most sophisticated examples of cave art in the world. The age and advanced nature of the paintings suggest that carved and engraved objects did not necessarily precede painted images, as archaeologists once believed.

Altamira cave paintings
Estimated age: 19,000 to 11,000 years
Location: Northern Spain

The paintings at Altamira in northern Spain are unique among cave paintings in many ways. Artists employed many different colors and often used facets of the rock to give their designs more dimension. The technical skill of the Magdalenian people set the Altamira paintings apart from other early human art that has been found.

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