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Human Evolution: Ape to Man

Why do we study human evolution?

According to Prof. Leslie Aiello​ (Univ. College London):
“We study human evolution to understand who we are and we really can’t understand who we
are until we go back to the very beginning of the journey.''

Specifically: Who were the first ancestors and what they looked like, why they evolved, and how
they lived.

Human ancestors​ hold the key to who we are and where we came from. Every now and then,
there’s a discovery.

25,000 years ago​ the domination of the world by our species had led to the extinction of all
other pre-human ancestors.

Taung, South Africa (North West province)

- place where archeologists have uncovered evidence of human origins
- specifically, a skull of a young pre-human creature (Also known as Taung child/baby or
skull), the first australopithecine was found
- story behind the skull​: An eagle snatched the head of a 3 year old youngster who was
wandering off a little from the rest of the family and carried it to Taung ​2.6 million years

Sterkfontein Limeworks, South Africa

- a cave where fossilized traces were found embedded on a rock (estimated age: 3 million
years old)
- lower bones of one leg were free but the remains are trapped

Dr. Ron Clarke

Director at Sterkfontein excavations
- believes that there is a complete skeleton beneath the limestone

Dr. Leslie Aiello

Professor at University College London
- primates (monkeys and apes) are close relatives to humans
- similarity and difference found in the skeleton of a chimpanzee:

Primates (Chimpanzee) Humans

1. Short thumb but same grasping 1. Longer thumb

Witwatersand University
Johannesburg, South Africa
- Science of Human Origins is a storeroom in Witwatersand University where the Taung
skull is placed

Prof. Philip Tobias

Prof. at Wiwatersand University
- the brain of Taung child/baby has been fossilized in which the blood vessels, arteries,
and veins are still intact (for scientists, this detail sets the Taung child/baby apart from
other evidence of human origins)
- “​I do not think that there is another find which has made more of an impact on man’s
understanding of his origins - his quests for his roots.​”

How was the Taung Skull found?

The Taung skull was blasted to the surface from the southern edge of the Kalahari Desert
where miners were quarrying for limestone. A few weeks later, it arrived in Johannesburg sent
to a man called ​Raymond Dart​.

Raymond Dart
Prof. of Anatomy
- the shape of the Taung skull is ape-like however, it did not seem to correspond to any
past or present creatures known to science
- “​A person of less imagination and initiative might have dismissed this as a sort of
beat-up chimpanzee.​ ”
- difference between the Taung child/baby and a chimpanzee (and other primates):

Taung Child/Baby Chimpanzee and other primates

1. Canine tooth is smaller 1. Canine tooth is bigger

2. Face is more vertical 2. Has a snotty face
3. Head had been held on a much 3. Apes have a spinal column that is
more upright spinal column oblique (slanted) and the head
tends to hang forward

Some similarity: Brain size is ape-like, but not the same size of a modern human child
with the approximate age

- named the Taung baby/child or skull as ​Australopithecus africanus​, the southern ape
of Africa and a creature that had taken decisive steps in human direction

Makapansgat Caves, South Africa

- Prof. Tobias discovered new evidence of australopithecines
- uncovered a vast horde of fossil bones mainly of long extinct species of hyena and
giraffe but strangely, the bones he found seems to have been broken intentionally and
- when Prof. Tobias mentioned the discovery, Dart traveled to the cave to examine broken
bones for himself
- Dart detected set patterns of breakage on the bones which was used as a dagger and
led the ​Killer Ape Theory​:

According to various websites in Google, the killer ape theory proposed that​ war​ and
interpersonal​ aggression​ were the driving force behind​ human evolution​.

According to the video, the killer ape theory was the answer to how apes became
humans - in creating crude weapons from bones to survive in their violent world.

Summary: The engine of our evolution was violence.

- Dart thought that the australopithecines were the beginnings of intelligence that led to
- more australopithecus discoveries made it possible to compare their anatomy to

According to Prof. Leslie Aiello

The human pelvis is shorter and very squat (disproportionately broad or wide) from other
mammals. The first ever discovered australopithecine pelvis was human-like.

Why is the pelvic shape important?

The pelvic shape has everything to do with the fundamental human characteristic of
being able to walk on two legs.

Although the australopithecines were ape-like in many features, they were able to walk
on two legs. Therefore, these creatures are confirmed as the first human ancestors.

Hadar Mountains in Southern Ethiopia

- complete remains of Australopithecus africanus were found by a team of fossil hunters
and called it ​Lucy​, the most famous australopithecine
- according to Prof. Bernard Wood (Georgetown University), “​Most specimens that one
finds of early hominids are very small scraps and the chances of discovering something
remarkable like Lucy is the same as winning the lottery​.”
- scientists thought that a complete skeleton of australopithecines would display further
human-like features but, Lucy’s bones were different:

What was Lucy like?

1. Height was not more than a meter
2. Finger bones were more curved than humans, which are quite straight. This
would mean that australopithecines were able to grasp onto branches, which
would lead to the conclusion that they lived on trees.
3. Rib cage were narrower at the top and wide at the base, which is more similar to
a chimpanzee than a human.

Lucy’s skeleton showed that the first australopithecine ancestors were still

- Dart was convinced that our early ancestors were brutal predators. This is because since
only skull parts are found, our ancestors had been headhunters and professional
- however, Prof. Bob Brain (Transvaal Museum) confirmed that there is another
explanation for the high number of skulls that the archeologists were finding:

“​When baboons and people are eaten by leopards, frequently, the whole skeleton
disappears and all that remains is parts of the skull.”​

We were the hunted, not the hunters. The more that archeologists discovered of Taung
child/baby’s pain, the harder it was to explain how they could have been successful
enough to be our ancestors.

Creatures like the Taung Child/Baby were not on their own

- members of australopithecus like the Taung child/baby were very lightly built and gracial
in form which referred to them as ​gracile australopithecines
- new species of ape man began to emerge called ​robust australopithecines
- other australopithecines were different: had extremely big cheek teeth, very heavily built
jaws and faces, and had strange crest that runs down the center of the skull

Australopithecines began to split into 2 disconnected forms: Gracile (slender build) and
robust (strong) australopithecines had both evolved from our earliest ape ancestors

Back in Makapansgat Caves, South Africa

- archeologist Kaye Reed (Arizona State University) came to look for clues to explain
bizarre mutation in australopithecines
- deep into the rock, her team has reached a level in the cave floor which is 3 million years
old exactly the same period that the australopithecines began to divide into robust and
gracile forms
- instead, found broken bones of an antelope that was adapted to wooded and lush
(abundant in vegetation) environment. ​Were they helpful? Yes.
- clues to the prehistoric climate came from the teeth of these long extinct antelopes in
which their teeth indicate that they were browsing animals having a diet that consisted of
- sometime during this period, this particular kind of antelope became extinct because it
couldn’t survive since its diet disappeared
- then, new antelopes appear with teeth that are designed for eating grass

Climate change transformed the ​dark fertile forests​ to ​dried scrublands​ in Savannah
3 million years ago. This is a change that must have also affected the lives of the

New Environment of Australopithecines

- would have been similar to the African scrublands of today with harsh, dry, and few
obvious food choices
- Kaye Reed looked for evidence to see what they might have done to survive in which the
only possible ​food sources are thick roots and tubers ​(​this new diet holds the key to
the robust appearance)​

New York State University

- researchers made a series of artificial brain casts (perfect replicas of pre-historic brains)
by coating the inside of australopithecine skulls with liquid latex
- from the shape of these casts, they concluded that our bigger brain could only have
evolved from gracile ancestors
- archeologists began to wonder if changes that led to a bigger brain might have been
caused by a change in diet

What we know about animals on the African Savannah

Vegetarians do not have big brains.

Dr. Thomas Loy

University of Queensland
- found answers in a peculiar collection of stones found alongside australopithecines
- the stones were covered with bones, blood, meat tissue, and hair

Olduvai Gorge
- another team looked for evidence that triggered brain growth and has uncovered horde
of animal bones
- at the field lab, ​Prof. Rob Bluemnschine​ (Rutgers University, New Jersey) examined the
files in which the bones seemed to have been chewed by carnivorous Savannah
- closely, cut marks made from stones identical to the discovered stones of Loy were

In these fossilized bones is proof that the ​gracile australopithecines had discovered
the​ ​first stone tools​ and used these tools on the bones of animals. ​Thus, gracile
australopithecines ate meat while robust australopithecines ate thick roots and

Prof. Ayano
- believes that a smaller gut had an impact on the brain
- “​The smaller the guts you have, the more energy you have for a larger brain.”​

Ngorongoro Center
- the extinct volcano of the Ngorongoro is home to the kind of predators that once faced
the australopithecines
- home to some of nature’s most efficient scavengers such as the hyena
- unable to compete, australopithecines needed to find meat where no one else wanted it
- Some bones would have provided hominids with substantial meal of brains and marrow

Note: Hominid is a primate of a family ( Hominidae ) that includes humans and their
fossil ancestors and also (in recent systems) at least some of the great apes.

- gracile australopithecines used tools to get at bone marrow that would take them away
from their ape origins

Tools allowed access to meat which is necessary for large brain. Thus, the larger the
brain, the more intelligent they became, and the more efficient they became at making
tools and extracting meat.

These changes set forth human evolution.