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Piecing together the evidence

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Piecing together the evidence

Compared with all other organisms, we have an incredible number of fossils with which to tell the story of human evolution. Even so, not all scientists tell the same story.

The cards below give details of some species associated with human evolution. Use the cards to create what you think is the most likely path of human evolution. If possible, add information from your own research on the Internet and in books. Justify the decisions you made to produce your story and explain why other stories may be equally valid.

This story will go back only to about 4 million years ago (Ma). The human story continues back to about 7 Ma when the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived.

Australopithecus afarensis
'Lucy' is the most famous example. Lived 3.9–3.0 Ma in East Africa. Walked upright, but like an orang-utan, small brain and smaller teeth than apes. Some scientists say it belongs to the main human line.

Homo erectus
'Upright man', from c.1.8–1.3 Ma. Found in parts of Asia and Africa, it is not clear where it first evolved. Tall, upright, with larger brain than earlier species and a good tool range.

Homo neanderthalensis
Neanderthal man lived in Asia and Europe from c.130–30 thousand years ago. Most scientists agree it evolved from Homo erectus in Europe. Recent DNA evidence suggests interbreeding with European Homo sapiens. Large brain, upright walking with straight legs, stocky build adapted to cold conditions.

Homo heidelbergensis
From about 600–400 thousand years ago, first in Ethiopia, then through Europe and Asia. Some restrict the name to European fossils or they may all be a wide variation in H. erectus. May be a descendant of H. erectus, probably an ancestor of ancient H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis.

Homo habilis
'Handy man' c.1.8–1.4 Ma in East and South Africa. Was thought the ancestor of H. erectus but the time overlap suggests this is unlikely. Small brain, chimpanzee-size but walked upright.

Australopithecus africanus
One example is the Taung child, lived 3.3–2.3 Ma in South Africa. Possibly more like modern humans than A. afarensis with flatter face.

Homo sapiens
The species that all people on Earth today belong to. Evolved in Africa about 200 000 years ago, most suggest from H. erectus. Large brain, upright walking, long straight legs, very wide tool use.

Homo georgicus
Small human found in Georgia, near Turkey, lived about 1.8 Ma. Might be a link between Australopithecus and H. erectus.

Kenyanthropus platyops
Only known from a braincase, some jaws and teeth; lived in Kenya, East Africa, about 3.5 Ma. Some scientists think its flat-fronted face and small teeth make it a more likely human ancestor than Australopithecus.

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