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From ape to human

From ape to human

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True or false? The species Homo has larger brains than earlier pre-humans.

From ape to human

Look, he looks just like you. Eh, he looks just like you, maybe you are related! You know what? Neither of you are totally wrong! Chimpanzees are actually humans’ closest relatives in the animal world.

They are more closely related to humans than to gorillas. Eh, we have no monkeys in our family? Are humans really related to apes? Yes, we are. Lets go to Africa seven million years back in time.

Look over there, in the woods! Are they apes? Yes, but they are not chimpanzees, but a species that no longer exists. They are humans’ and chimpanzees’ last common ancestor. They live in the trees because that's where their food is.

They can also keep a look out for predators. They don’t seem to get along. They are fighting over food. The climate has become drier, there is less to eat, and some of them are heading off for the jungle. In a couple of million years their descendants will become what we know as chimpanzees and bonobos.

These apes on the other hand, walk towards the dry grassland, the savanna. On the savanna there aren't as many trees as in the jungle. Look! Some of the apes manage to stand on their hind legs. Those who manage this can more easily find food and detect dangers.

They have a better chance of survival. Evolution will benefit these individuals who can stand on their hind legs. Their offspring will also inherit this ability. And slowly, generation by generation, this kind of ape will become better and better at standing upright, and walking on its hind legs. And eventually they will become one the very first groups of pre-humans: Ardipithecus After two million years, pre-humans are still climbing trees but they do also manage to stand and walk on two legs.

When they use their hind legs to walk it's easier to carry food and their kids. And they are able to walk much longer distances, so they have access to a larger variety of food. Walking on two legs turns out to be beneficial in competition with other apes. Over time, this group of pre-humans grows and splits into many. They spread all over Africa.

They will encounter different climates, and evolve in different directions. Two million years later, in a place that will later be called Ethiopia, we meet this young woman, Dinknesh or Lucy as she is more commonly called. Her appearance closely resembles an ape, but her feet are perfectly adjusted to upright walking. She belongs to a group of pre-humans called Australopithecus. But Australopithecus is not the only pre-human roaming around in East Africa at this time.

While Australopithecus is living in East Africa, there’s another group of pre-humans in the area, who - it’s believed - also walk upright. They have large teeth and very strong jaws, and they eat a much more varied diet than other pre-humans. Most likely they are able to build, and use bone tools to access food, for example from termite mounds. This is family Paranthropus. While Paranthropus is poking around in termite mounds, another species of pre-humans suddenly appears.

And now something has happened in evolution. The pre-humans in this group, Homo, have much larger brains than their earlier relatives. They walk upright most of the time, and they use much more advanced tools than ever before in history. Here it is then: the humans’ family tree. Seven million years of evolution: from the last common ancestor that ties modern day chimpanzees together with humans, to the species of humans we belong to today, Homo.

Over this long period of time, many different species of pre-humans often lived side by side. Well, now you know! You see! You are related to monkeys!