From the moment Neil Armstrong took his "one small step" in 1969, humans have been mesmerized by the moon.
With all the buzz about Homo naledi, the newly discovered human ancestor, herea€™s some background that will help put it in context.
A model of the spine of Australopithecus afarensis (Lucy) is shown next to the shadows of a modern human and a modern chimpanzee.
The discovery of Homo naledi, the newest branch on our family tree, has people talking about human evolutiona€”and trying to remember some of the basics theya€™ve forgotten.
Biologists have actually observed evolution happening in other species, both in the field and in the laba€”the recent emergence of antibiotic-resistant microbes is a form of evolution.
The DNA that makes up our genes, and those of every organism on Earth except some viruses, is subject to random mutation. If an animal is born with a coat color that offers more protection from predators, for instance, it could survive longer and produce more offspring.
A trio of other Homo species, all first appearing in the fossil record around two million years ago, argues against a linear progression toward humannessa€”a message underscored by H.
The human lineage diverged from that of apes at least seven million years ago and maybe as long as 13 million years ago. There's considerable debate over when our ancestors first harnessed firea€”it may have been anywhere from 1.8 million to around 800,000 years ago.
Both genetic and fossil evidence show that until relatively recently, human evolution happened in Africa.


Around 60,000 years agoa€”again according to both genetic and fossil evidencea€”modern humans migrated out of Africa and began colonizing the world.
It's 100 times bigger than Earth, reaches unfathomably hot temperaturesa€”and makes sunscreen a really good idea. We share nearly 99 percent of our genetic sequence with chimpanzees and bonobos, which strongly suggests we share a common ancestor. And animal breeders make evolution happen all the timea€”think of the tremendous variety of dog breeds that have been created from wolves.
Evolution contradicts the Genesis story that God created all organisms in their present form. Every now and then one of those mutations affects an important trait, such as an animala€™s coat color or a particular behavior. If a longer courtship display is more appealing to mates, that too could lead to greater reproductive success. The earliest undisputed members of our lineage to regularly walk upright were the australopithecines, of which the most famous is Lucya€™s species, Australopithecus afarensis. According to one theory, the invention of cooking allowed us to gain more energy from meat, which fueled the dramatic evolution of the human brain. Genetic evidence suggests that soon after leaving Africa, they interbred to some extent with the Neanderthals and a mysterious population in Asia called the Denisovans. Humans are continuing to evolve, but now the evolution is driven as much by our culture and the technology wea€™ve invented as by our biology.


And there are thousands of fossils documenting progressively more human-like species in the evolution of our lineage after it split from the other great apes and later from chimps and bonobos. Animal breeders selectively breed animals that have the traits they want; thata€™s artificial selection.
Bigger brains and more dextrous hands in turn were the prerequisite for the developments that set humans apart, including complex language, art, and agriculture, all of which emerged in the past 100,000 years. Knowing where our species evolved matters because the environment it adapted to helped shape the genetic makeup we still carry with us today. And other animals, including the apes, are also continuing to evolvea€”especially now, in response to the huge changes in their environment that humans have made. Where we came from is the first chapter in the long story of how we got to where we are now. The real question here is, who was that last common ancestor, the missing progenitor of both chimps and humans? Either they were made by australopithecines like Lucya€”or scientists simply havena€™t yet found the early form of Homo that made them.



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