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Online Lessons for Teachers: Learning Evolution


How Did Humans Evolve?

Back to LESSON 5

Activity 1: Fossil Finding

Activity 1: Teacher Notes

Activity 2: Teacher Notes

Materials You'll Need:


A Tree Full of Ancestors: Discussion Questions (pdf)


3 sheets of 8 1/2" x 11" tracing paper




3 pens of different colors

Activity 2: A Tree Full of Ancestors

When you are asked to imagine human ancestors, do you picture burly, club-wielding cavemen slinking into their caves, or chimpanzee-like animals swinging through the trees? Who are our ancestors? In this activity, you will use an interactive timeline as a reference as you piece together the past and study three possible hominid family trees.

Part A: Tree Variation


Launch the Origins of Humankind Web activity. Become familiar with the timeline, family tree, and species gallery. You will find that the timeline includes information about each hominid species as well as about the evidence found, in the form of fossils and artifacts, that tell us what we know about the species.

 Screen grab from the Origins of Humankind Web activity.

Origins of Humankind


Print out the family tree. Then gather alternative theorized hominid family trees from your text book or the following Web sites:


Early Human Phylogeny
Click on the branches of this family tree to learn more about different species of hominids and the scientists who discovered their fossils. If you click on the red question marks, you can find out why some branches of the family tree are still debated.


Becoming Human
This interactive documentary about human origins is worth an hour of your time, but if you're in class and you're looking for specific information, jump to "Becoming Human: The Documentary." Then select "Lineages" from the menu at the top. Move your cursor to the bottom of the screen, and a menu will pop up. Click on "The Human Family Tree" and then on the three theories to see alternative versions of the human family tree. You also may want to read the hominid profiles.


Sketch three family trees on tracing paper with a pencil. Make sure you use the same size and format so you can place one on top of another and see how they vary. Trace over the lines with a colored pen (a different color for each tree), so the lines will show up well.


Print A Tree Full of Ancestors: Discussion Questions (pdf) and use the Web activity, the above sites, and the sites listed below to answer the questions.


Prominent Hominid Fossils
Visit this site to find out what hominid fossils have been discovered, who found them, how big their brains were, and more information about ancestral species.


Human Evolution: The Fossil Evidence in 3D
Step into the gallery, choose a cranium (of either fossil ancestors of humans or modern primate relatives), and rotate it for a better view. If you click on the human icon, you can see the fossil ancestors and find out more about them.


Be prepared to discuss the questions in class.

Part B: Your Discovery!


Pretend that you are a paleoanthropologist. What type of evidence would you like to discover that might best help to resolve the differences between the alternative family trees?


Write a newspaper article about your discovery. Draw a picture of the fossil or artifact you "discovered." Tell where you found it, how you found it, and what the significance is. Maybe your find helps verify one of the family trees or overturns previous assumptions.


Write a short article by a scientist who doubts your claims.


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