Meet our early human family tree

Human Family Tree | The Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins Program

meet our early human family tree

Homo naledi: 1, Fossils Revolutionize Human Family Tree and both sexes represented, the find adds an unprecedented amount of information to our understanding of early human evolution in Africa. Meet the Author. DNA from Neandertal relative may shake up human family tree fifth annual meeting of the European Society for the study of human evolution. . “Indeed, the Sima de los Huesos specimens are early Neandertals or related. Arranging this meeting with tribal leaders to negotiate access to the fossil .. As researchers sort out where Ardi sits in the human family tree, they agree that she .

Before Darwin[ edit ] The word homo, the name of the biological genus to which humans belong, is Latin for "human". It was chosen originally by Carl Linnaeus in his classification system. The word "human" is from the Latin humanus, the adjectival form of homo. Darwin[ edit ] The possibility of linking humans with earlier apes by descent became clear only after with the publication of Charles Darwin 's On the Origin of Speciesin which he argued for the idea of the evolution of new species from earlier ones.

Darwin's book did not address the question of human evolution, saying only that "Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.

meet our early human family tree

Huxley argued for human evolution from apes by illustrating many of the similarities and differences between humans and apes, and did so particularly in his book Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature. However, many of Darwin's early supporters such as Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Lyell did not initially agree that the origin of the mental capacities and the moral sensibilities of humans could be explained by natural selectionthough this later changed.

Darwin applied the theory of evolution and sexual selection to humans when he published The Descent of Man in Neanderthal remains were discovered in a limestone quarry inthree years before the publication of On the Origin of Species, and Neanderthal fossils had been discovered in Gibraltar even earlier, but it was originally claimed that these were human remains of a creature suffering some kind of illness. The child's remains were a remarkably well-preserved tiny skull and an endocast of the brain.

Also, the specimen showed short canine teethand the position of the foramen magnum the hole in the skull where the spine enters was evidence of bipedal locomotion. All of these traits convinced Dart that the Taung Child was a bipedal human ancestor, a transitional form between apes and humans. During the s and s, hundreds of fossils were found in East Africa in the regions of the Olduvai Gorge and Lake Turkana.

The driving force of these searches was the Leakey family, with Louis Leakey and his wife Mary Leakeyand later their son Richard and daughter-in-law Meave —all successful and world-renowned fossil hunters and paleoanthropologists.

From the fossil beds of Olduvai and Lake Turkana they amassed specimens of the early hominins: These finds cemented Africa as the cradle of humankind. In the late s and the s, Ethiopia emerged as the new hot spot of paleoanthropology after "Lucy"the most complete fossil member of the species Australopithecus afarensiswas found in by Donald Johanson near Hadar in the desertic Afar Triangle region of northern Ethiopia.

Although the specimen had a small brain, the pelvis and leg bones were almost identical in function to those of modern humans, showing with certainty that these hominins had walked erect.

White in the s, including Ardipithecus ramidus and Ardipithecus kadabba. But what came before her? For 20 years after her discovery, it was as if the earliest chapter of the human story were missing.

meet our early human family tree

Desmond Clark to search for fossils and stone tools in Ethiopia. They got off to a promising start—finding 3.

Our Ancient Human Cousins!

It was the root of a tooth, a molar, and its size and shape indicated that it belonged to a hominid. State-of-the-art dating methods indicated that they were 4. The idea that it was a member of the human family was based primarily on its teeth—in particular, the absence of large, dagger-like canines sharpened by the lower teeth.

But the gold standard for being a hominid was upright walking. White joked at the time that he would be delighted with more fossils—in particular, a skull and thighbone.

The Human Family's Earliest Ancestors | Science | Smithsonian

It was as if he had placed an order. It was the find of a lifetime. Her bones were so brittle that they crumbled when touched. In the museum lab, White painstakingly injected glue from syringes into each fragment and then used dental tools and brushes, often under a microscope, to remove the silty clay from the glue-hardened fossils.

Meanwhile, Suwa, today a paleoanthropologist at the University of Tokyo, analyzed key fossils with modified CT scanners to see what was inside them and used computer imaging to digitally restore the crushed skull.

Finally, he and anatomist C. Owen Lovejoy worked from the fossils and the computer images to make physical models of the skull and pelvis.

This came as a surprise to researchers who had proposed that the earliest hominids would look and act a lot like chimpanzees. They are our closest living relatives, sharing 96 percent of our DNA, and they are capable of tool use and complex social behavior. If Lovejoy is right, this means Ardi—and our upright-walking ancestors—never went through a knuckle-walking stage after they came down from the trees to live on the ground, as some experts have long believed.

They would have let her balance on one leg at a time while walking upright. And she had an opposable big toe, so her foot was able to grasp branches, suggesting she still spent a lot of time in the trees—to escape predators, pick fruit or even sleep, presumably in nests made of branches and leaves.

meet our early human family tree

He and his colleagues have proposed that Ardi represents an early stage of human evolution when an ancient ape body plan was being remodeled to live in two worlds—in the trees and on the ground, where hominids increasingly foraged for plants, eggs and small critters.

The Ardi research also challenged the long-held views that hominids evolved in a grassy savanna, says Middle Awash project geologist Giday WoldeGabriel of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Analyzing thousands of specimens of fossilized plants and animals, as well as hundreds of samples of chemicals in sediments and tooth enamel, the researchers found evidence of such forest species as hackberry, fig and palm trees in her environment.

Ardi lived alongside monkeys, kudu antelopes and peafowl—animals that prefer woodlands, not open grasslands.

DNA from Neandertal relative may shake up human family tree

Ardi is also providing insights into ancient hominid behavior. Moving from the trees to the ground meant that hominids became easier prey. At the same time, A. As hominids began increasingly to work together, Lovejoy says, they also adopted other previously unseen behaviors—to regularly carry food in their hands, which allowed them to provision mates or their young more effectively.

This behavior, in turn, may have allowed males to form tighter bonds with female mates and to invest in the upbringing of their offspring in a way not seen in African apes.

meet our early human family tree

All this reinforced the shift to life on the ground, upright walking and social cooperation, says Lovejoy. Not everyone is convinced that Ardi walked upright, in part because the critical evidence comes from her pelvis, which was crushed. While most researchers agree that she is a hominid, based on features in her teeth and skull, they say she could be a type of hominid that was a distant cousin of our direct ancestor—a newfound offshoot on the human family tree.

How can we identify the earliest members of the human family? How do we recognize the first stages of upright walking? What did our common ancestor with chimpanzees look like? A toe bone suggested its owner had walked upright.

What Makes a Fossil a Member of the Human Family Tree? | Science | Smithsonian

The bones looked so much like a primitive version of A. InMartin Pickford of the College of France and Brigitte Senut of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris announced their team had found an even older hominid—13 fossils representing a species that lived six million years ago in the Tugen Hills of Kenya.

Two of the fossils were thighbones, including one that provided the oldest direct evidence of upright walking in a hominid. Informally, in honor of its year of discovery, they called it Millennium man. Hot on the heels of that discovery came the most surprising one of all—a skull from Chad, about 1, miles west of the Great Rift Valley of eastern Africa where many of the most ancient hominids have been found. A Chadian student named Ahounta Djimdoumalbaye picked up a ball of rock on the floor of the Djurab Desert, where windstorms blow sand dunes like waves on a sea and expose fossils buried for millions of years.

When Djimdoumalbaye turned over the stone, he stared into the vacant eye sockets of an ape-like face—the skull of a primate that lived six million to seven million years ago on the shores of an ancient lake. It had traits that suggested it was a hominid—a small lower face and canines and a skull that seemed to sit atop its spine, as in upright walkers. Paleontologist Michel Brunet, then of the University of Poitiers in France, introduced it as the oldest known hominid, Sahelanthropus tchadensis.

But proving that a skull walked upright is difficult, and questions linger about whether Sahelanthropus is a bona fide hominid or not. Taken together, fossils discovered over the past 15 years have provided snapshots of several different creatures that were alive in Africa at the critical time when the earliest members of the human family were emerging.

When these snapshots are added to the human family album, they double the time researchers can see back into our past—from Lucy at 3. The fossils, named Australopithecus anamensis, were 4. One thing that is clear is that these early fossils belong in a class by themselves.

meet our early human family tree

These species did not look or act like other known apes or like Lucy and other members of Australopithecus.