How did we become human?

How did we become human?

Why are we the way we are?

Scientists have a general idea of how we became human, but there are still some big mysteries to solve.

  • Why do we walk upright?
  • Why don't we have fur?
  • How did our brain become bigger?

Have a look at this cartoon from the New Scientist:

What do we know about human evolution?

There is still a lot we don't know about how we, Homo sapiens, evolved. Scientists are piecing the puzzle together.

Modern humans, along with other great apes, evolved from a common ape-like ancestor. Early humans evolved around 7 million years ago.

Homo habilis

Model of Homo habilis, an early human (c) Lillyundfreya

Over the past 7 million years, there have been over 20 different species of early humans. They are all extinct, except us.

Our ancestors evolved in Africa and stayed there for three to four million years. Eventually our ancestors stood on two legs and developed a bigger brain. The first species to leave Africa and spread across the globe was Homo erectus.


As early humans spread out, the climate was changing. Some species adapted to the changing world. Others went extinct. Our most famous extinct relative is Homo neanderthalensis - the Neanderthals.

Model of a neanderthal man

Model of a Neanderthal man (c) Christopher Cagé

Neanderthals were a very successful species and shared the planet with us - Homo sapiens. Why did Neanderthals go extinct?  Did they fight with Homo sapiens? Or did a changing climate kill them?

Neanderthals looked quite different from us and behaved differently. But what if they weren't as different as they looked? Perhaps Homo sapiens bred with Neanderthals, leading to modern humans as we know them. Maybe you have some Neanderthal genes!

Neanderthals and all other early human species went extinct. We still don't know why. Modern humans were the only human species to survive. We spread out across the globe, colonising almost every continent.

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