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Humanity's Ancestors

Species Chart

Scientists group all living things into families. Families are divided into genera and species. The chart below shows the scientific names of the genera and species of the Hominidae family.

Family: Hominidae; Hominid is the common name for ancestors and relatives of man.

"Bipedalism is a demanding and risky strategy. It means refashioning the pelvis into a full load-bearing instrument. To preserve the required strength, the birth canal must be comparatively narrow. This has two very significant immediate consequences and one longer-term one. First, it means a lot of pain for any birthing mother and a greatly increased danger of fatality to mother and baby both. Moreover to get the baby's head through such a tight space it must be born while its brain is still small - and while the baby, therefore, is still helpless. This means long-term infant care, which in turn implies solid male-female bonding.

All this is problematic enough when you are the intellectual master of the planet, but when you are a small, vulnerable australopithecine, with a brain about the size of an orange, the risk must have been enormous.

So why did Lucy and her kind come down from the trees and out of the forests? Probably they had no choice. The slow rise of the Isthmus of Panama had cut the flow of waters from the Pacific into the Atlantic, diverting warming currents away from the Arctic and leading to the onset of an exceedingly sharp ice age in northern latitudes. In Africa, this would have produced seasonal drying and cooling, gradually turning jungle into savanna. "'It was not so much that Lucy and her like left the forests,' John Gribbin has written, 'but that the forests left them.'" p446-7

Tool types: Acheulean [giant, seemingly worthless axes], more advanced than Oldowan. paleoanthropology. Olorgesailie tool "factory" site - organized, by lake, lasted 1milyrs [1.2mil to .2mya], stones used from Olorgesailie and Ol Esakut [10km, 6mi away], axes were tricky and labor-intensive to make [hours!], not good for cutting, chopping, scraping, etc. Assumed to be homo erectus, but no real clue, since no bones ever found nearby [you can't die here!] p454, 467

Humans, all from africa within past 100g years, poss as late as 25g, breeding stock of no more than 10g people. That's why modern humans have very little diversity ["there's more diversity in one social group of fifty-five chimps than in the entire human population"]. But variant gene found in "Java Man" not found in most of modern population then found common in Asians and indigenous ppl of Australia. Variant genes she [Rosalind Harding] says came up 200g years ago in east Asia, long before homo sapiens, so ancestors of Asiappl now incl archaic hominids. Also found in Oxfordshire [!?!]. p463-4

Homo erectus: roughly 1.8mya to 20gya

Bryan Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve. Claiming mitochondrial DNA, he traced most living Europeans to seven women who lived btwn 10g and 45g years ago [Paleolithic era]. p464

KNM-ER 1808, a female 1.7mya: woman's bones deformed, covered in coarse growths, result of hypervitaminosis A, can come only from eating liver of carnivore: erectus ate meat. But amt of growth showed she'd lived weeks, months with disease, so someone looked after her. [homo erectus]. Erectus skulls possibly contain a Broca's area, region of frontal lobe associated with speech. p450-1

References:
A handout from Mrs Tran's World History I class
Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, pages