By Natural Philosopher Mike Prestwood
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Timeline

The Human Evolution Timeline

Primates, Hominids, Hominins, & Humans.

This timeline picks up our story with the evolution of primates. Since we share many traits with other animals, we know these traits evolved early in our evolutionary story. Hence, most of our traits evolved long before “we” were human.

  • Primates: All lemurs, monkeys, and apes, along with their extinct relatives. Traits: forward-facing eyes, large brains relative to body size, and opposable thumbs.
  • Hominids: The Great Apes, which narrows to gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, and humans, along with their direct ancestors. Traits: large size, no tail, and more complex brains and behaviors.
  • Hominins: Modern humans, our immediate ancestors, and other species more closely related to us than to chimpanzees. Traits: bipedalism and increased social behavioral. The foramen magnum, the spinal cord hole in the skull, evolved from behind to under the skull.
  • Genus Homo: Humans and our closest extinct relatives and ancestors. Traits: larger brain, language, symbolic thought as in art, control of fire, advanced tools, and advanced cultural transmission including an ability to adapt to diverse environments, make clothing, and invent social constructs.
  • Before Primates: Major animal traits that evolved before primates.

Evolution
Switch To: March to Life | EvolutionHuman Evolution | Consciousness

Purgatorius — Earliest known proto-primate.
© N. Tamura (CC BY-SA)
66 Million BCE
Cretaceous End -- Tertiary Start

Class: Mammal; Early Proto-Primate
Time Period: Late Cretaceous to the early Paleocene
Diet: Likely Frugivorous (fruits) / Insectivorous (insects)

Purgatorius is an extinct species believed to be the earliest primate or a proto-primate, a primatomorph precursor to the Plesiadapiformes. It lived in Eastern Montana about 66 million years ago during the very last years of the Cretaceous period. Although statistically unlikely, this little creature could be a direct ancestor of humans. It lived through the K-T extinction event and the extinction of dinosaurs.

Plesiadapis: First fruit-insect eaters.
Plesiadapis: First fruit-insect eaters.
58 Million BCE
circa 55-58 million years ago

Class: Mammal; Early Primate (Plesiadapiformes)
Time Period: Late Paleocene
Diet: Likely Frugivorous/Insectivorous

Plesiadapis is an example of a fruit-insect eater likely similar to our direct-line ancestors around this time. It is considered one of the earliest primate-like mammals, though not a direct ancestor of modern primates. Its physical characteristics suggest a diet that likely included fruits and insects. It represents the kind of diet and ecological niche that early primates might have occupied.

Early Intelligence Emerges: Aegyptopithecus zeuxis
Early Intelligence Emerges: Aegyptopithecus zeuxis
30 Million BCE
Complex Brains; Long-Term Memory; Complex Sentience; Semi Self-awareness settles in.

Early Primate: Within the dense forests of the Oligocene epoch, Aegyptopithecus zeuxis marked a significant advance in the evolution of intelligence among primates. As an early forerunner to both the great apes and humans, Aegyptopithecus possessed adaptations crucial for enhanced cognitive function, such as a larger brain relative to its body size and eyes positioned for depth perception. These physical traits supported the development of behaviors requiring problem-solving, learning, and adaptation—hallmarks of emerging intelligence. The social life of Aegyptopithecus, inferred from its anatomy and fossil context, likely involved complex interactions and the use of rudimentary tools, setting the stage for the exponential growth in intelligence that characterizes later primates, including humans.

Emergence of Blood Type Variability in Primates
Emergence of Blood Type Variability in Primates
circa 20 million years ago
Phenotype Variations

Blood type variations originated from common primate ancestors around 20 million years ago. While blood transfusions between species, such as between apes and humans, are not viable due to different and incompatible blood antigens, the development of blood type systems, including types similar to the human A, B, AB, and O, can be traced back to these early ancestors.

This evolutionary milestone, involving the presence or absence of specific antigens on red blood cells, provided a crucial adaptive advantage against various pathogens. As primates branched out and occupied diverse ecological niches across continents, these genetic variations became instrumental in their survival. This trait underscores the evolutionary processes that contribute to the vast genetic diversity seen across primates, including humans, demonstrating how adaptations to local environmental pressures can drive evolutionary change across millions of years.

Self-Awareness Settles: Proconsul
Self-Awareness Settles: Proconsul
18 Million BCE
Complex Brains; Long-Term Memory; Complex Sentience; Maybe Self-aware; Likely Simple EI.

Early Primate; Early Ape (hominoid): Proconsul, an inhabitant of the Miocene forests, stands as a landmark in the evolutionary journey toward self-awareness. This early ape lacked a tail and exhibited a mixture of arboreal and terrestrial traits, providing clues to the social and environmental challenges that likely spurred cognitive advancements. While direct evidence of self-awareness in Proconsul is beyond our reach, its position in the ape lineage suggests the development of social structures and cognitive abilities that predate the sophisticated self-awareness observed in modern great apes, elephants, and dolphins. Proconsul’s world was one of increasing cognitive complexity, setting the stage for the emergence of true self-aware beings, capable of recognizing themselves as distinct entities within their social and natural environments.

Skin Color Diversity Across and within Primate Species
Skin Color Diversity Across and within Primate Species
By 14 Million Years Ago
Phenotype Variations

The skin color diversity in primates over the last 20 million years showcases the adaptability of primates. The melanin levels in primate skin vary significantly based on the varying levels of UV radiation exposure in different climates. In high UV regions, darker skin evolved to protect against UV damage and folate degradation, while in areas with less sunlight, lighter skin developed to facilitate vitamin D synthesis through the skin. This adaptive trait is not static; it can change over millennia as populations move between different UV environments.

1.2 Million Years Ago: For our genus Homo ancestors starting around 1.2 million years ago, as they spread to locations outside Africa, these mechanisms kicked in. The following is an imagined image of our ancestors in the various environments they spread into by 1 mya.

Cultural Transmission Emerges: Dryopithecus Branch Off
Cultural Transmission Emerges: Dryopithecus Branch Off
circa 13 Million BCE
Cultural Transmission

As the branches of the ape family tree diverged, Dryopithecus emerged during the Miocene epoch, offering a glimpse into the early development of primate social structures. Living approximately 13 to 12 million years ago, this early ape flourished in the European forests, at a time slightly preceding or overlapping with the divergence of orangutans around 12 to 16 million years ago. This timeline positions Dryopithecus as an example of early apes developing complex social behaviors that may have included rudimentary forms of cultural transmission.

Inhabiting a world of dense forests and diverse ecosystems, Dryopithecus likely navigated a social landscape that required adaptive behaviors and communication skills, setting the stage for the evolution of more sophisticated social learning and cultural transmission. These early apes were not direct ancestors of modern orangutans but rather part of a broader group of Miocene apes that explored various adaptive strategies. The evolution of social learning in such environments underscores the beginnings of culture, where knowledge and behaviors started to be passed down through generations, shaping the social dynamics of future ape lineages.

Early Emotional Intelligence Emerges: Orangutans Branch Off
Orangutan standing
circa 12 Million BCE
Complex Brains; Long-Term Memory; Complex Sentience; Self-aware; Complex EI.
480,000 Generations Ago

Ancestral Hominids (us, pre-split): The evolutionary journey of the great apes witnessed a significant branching around 12 to 16 million years ago, when the ancestors of modern orangutans diverged from the common lineage shared with other great apes, including humans. This divergence marked the emergence of a distinct evolutionary path leading to the orangutans of today, known for their remarkable intelligence and the striking reddish hair that sets them apart from their African cousins. Inhabiting the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, orangutans became the masters of arboreal life, showcasing a suite of adaptations to a life spent mostly in trees. This pivotal moment in great ape evolution underscores the deep and diverse evolutionary heritage shared among all great apes, including humans.

In the dense rainforests where orangutans reside, a subtle yet profound evolution unfolds, revealing the roots of emotional intelligence among great apes. Orangutans, with their solitary but socially intricate lives, exemplify early forms of emotional intelligence that resonate through the primate lineage. Their nuanced social interactions, empathetic behaviors, and problem-solving capabilities underscore a deep-seated capacity to understand and navigate the emotional landscapes of their lives. This early emergence of emotional intelligence in orangutans represents a crucial evolutionary step, shedding light on the social and cognitive complexities that would be further refined in the human lineage. By studying orangutans, we gain insights into the evolutionary pressures that shaped the emotional intelligence of primates, providing a window into the past that helps us understand the cognitive and emotional bonds we share with our closest living relatives.

Complex EI Emerges: Orangutans fall into the Complex EI category. They exhibit a broad spectrum of emotionally intelligent behaviors, including empathy, where they show concern for the welfare of others; the use of emotional cues to communicate and navigate complex social landscapes; self-control and mood management; and problem-solving that incorporates emotional states. Their ability to engage in morally influenced behaviors, such as sharing based on social bonds or altering their behavior to maintain social harmony, underscores their capacity for complex emotional intelligence. Orangutans’ nuanced social interactions, care for their young, and responses to environmental and social challenges demonstrate a sophisticated understanding and management of emotions that align with the hallmarks of complex EI.

Gorillas Branch Off
Gorillas Branch Off
8 Million BCE
Ancestral Hominids (us, pre-split)
320,000 Generations Ago

Following the divergence of the orangutans, the gorilla lineage branched off from the rest of the great ape family around 8 to 9 million years ago. This split led to the evolution of the largest of the living apes, the gorillas, which today inhabit the forests of central Africa. Gorillas exhibit a fascinating social structure and exhibit impressive displays of strength, yet are known for their gentle nature. The divergence of gorillas from the common ancestor they shared with humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos further highlights the rich tapestry of evolution that has given rise to the variety of great ape species seen today. Each branching event within the great ape family tree reveals the intricate story of adaptation and survival that connects all members of the Hominidae family.

Split from Chimpanzee
Split from Chimpanzee
7 Million BCE
Hominids (us)
280,000 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

Hominid ancestor: Humans and Chimpanzees had a common ancestor that lived in Africa about 7 million BCE. Humans did not evolve from Chimpanzees, but both are the current evolution of a common ancestor. That common ancestor has yet to be identified and is sometimes referred to as the Chimpanzee–Human Last Common Ancestor (CHLCA). That common ancestor lived sometime between 5 and 25 million BCE with 7 million BCE being a common “best guess”. The living species that evolved from this common ancestor are gathered together in the Hominini family — the scientific taxonomic tribe. The only living species on Earth that are part of the Hominini family today are humans and two types of Chimpanzees: common and bonobo. All the other species that evolved from our common ancestor are now extinct. 

Walking Upright: Sahelanthropus tchadensis
Walking Upright: Sahelanthropus tchadensis
6.5 Million BCE
Hominins
260,000 Generations Ago

Brain Size: around 320 to 380 cm³ (speculative)
Brain to Body EQ: Unknown, but like similar to chimpanzees at 2.2 to 2.5 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)

Sahelanthropus tchadensis has two human anatomical traits: small canine teeth, and walking upright on two legs. We believe it walked on two legs because the large opening where the spinal cord exits out of the cranium from the brain is located further forward (on the underside of the cranium) than in apes or any other primate except humans.

The female human evolution.

Australopithecus Genus
Australopithecus Genus
2.9 Million BCI
Hominin, genus Australopithecus (4.2 to 2.9 MYA)
116,000 Generations Ago

Including several species such as Australopithecus anamensis (around 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago), Australopithecus afarensis (famous for the “Lucy” specimen, around 3.9 to 2.9 million years ago), and others. They show clear evidence of bipedal locomotion along with other adaptations not seen in earlier hominins.

Early Stone Tools
Early Stone Tools
2.7 Million BCE
Hominins

The earliest known stone tools date back to at least 2.6 million years ago. These basic stone tools were made and used by early humans–hominids. Did they also use wood tools? Sure, or at least very likely, but we have yet to find any preserved back as far as stone tools which hold up to the test of time much better than wood. 

The stone tools include hammerstones, stone cores, and sharp stone flakes. By about 1.76 million years ago, early humans began to make Acheulean handaxes and other large cutting tools.

Intelligence Settles: Homo Habilis
Intelligence Settles: Homo Habilis
2.3 Million BCE
2.3 to 1.65 Million BCE
92,000 Generations Ago

First Earth Explorer: Homo Habilis lived about 2.3 to 1.65 million BCE. They had larger brains than predecessors and used stone tools as well as used and controlled fire. They were likely the first hominids to explore most of the Earth. We know these hominids evolved into at least 20 known species of which only Homo Sapiens survive today.

The advent of Homo habilis represents a milestone in the journey of intelligence in the human lineage. Known as “handy man,” Homo habilis’s association with the earliest stone tools evidences an unprecedented level of cognitive ability, including foresight, planning, and the ability to manipulate the environment in complex ways. These early humans not only solved problems and adapted tools to new uses but also likely had a rudimentary understanding of social cooperation and communication necessary for collaborative hunting and gathering. The intellectual capabilities of Homo habilis paved the way for further developments in human cognition, leading to advanced tool use, language, and the complex societal structures that define our species today.

Some of our extinct distant cousins but NOT* our ancestors:

  • Homo antecessor: 1.2 million to 800,000 BCE (Spain; maybe England and France)
  • Homo erectus**: 2 million to 108,000 BCE (Eurasia)
  • Homo floresiensis: 60,000 to 50,000 BCE (Indonesian island of Flores)
  • Homo luzonensis: 67,000 to 50,000 BCE (Philippines)
  • Homo naledi: 335,000 to 236,000 BCE (Africa, along side our direct ancestors)

Our distant cousins exhibited some human traits including cave dwelling, controlled fire, team hunting, and butchering of prey with tools. The surviving tools found are made of stone and bone but it is very likely they used other less durable types of materials like wood, vines, feathers, sticks, etc. For example, the hand axe dates back to before 2 million BCE. All this evidence indicates these human traits likely evolved before 2 million BCE.

*No valid evidence, and not currently thought to be an ancestor. 
**There is a debatable hypothesis that homo erectus explored the world, returned to Africa, and those that returned evolved into homo ergaster and are our direct line ancestors.

Emergence of the Chimpanzee Family
Bonobo chimpanzees in the wilderness in Democratic Republic of the Congo
2 Million BCE
Hominids, Not Us (different branch)

Around 1.5 to 2 million years ago, the evolutionary branches of ancient primates led to the distinct emergence of what we now recognize as the chimpanzee family, under the genus “Pan.” This pivotal event in primate evolution unfolded approximately 5 million years after our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and bonobos took separate paths. As with many significant chapters in the story of primates, this one too unfolded on the diverse and vibrant stage of Africa, a continent that has been the cradle for the unfolding drama of human and primate evolution alike. This era marks not just the divergence of chimpanzees and bonobos but a defining moment in the rich tapestry of hominid history.

Homo erectus: A True Omnivore
Homo erectus: A True Omnivore
1.9 Million BCE
around 1.9 million to 143,000 BCE
76,000 Generations Ago

Class: Mammal; Genus: Homo
Time Period: Early Pleistocene (Late Gelasian to Early Calabrian)
Diet: Omninivore
Brain Size: 950 cm³
Brain to Body EQ: 4.2 to 4.5 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)

Homo erectus is a direct ancestor of modern humans and represents a key point in human evolution where evidence of a truly omnivorous diet becomes clear, including the use of tools for hunting and processing both plant and animal foods. This species shows significant brain enlargement and other adaptations indicative of complex foraging and social behaviors.

Oldest Modern Human-like Footprints
Oldest Modern Human-like Footprints
1.52 Million BCE
1.53 to 1.51 Million BCE
60,800 Generations Ago

Species: Likely Homo erectus, our direct ancestor. The footprints found in Ileret, Kenya represent the oldest undisputed evidence of hominins walking upright in an efficient manner characteristic of modern humans. Our style of upright walking, which Homo erectus appears to have shared, is energy-efficient and adapted for long distances. It involves a long stride with a spring-like mechanism in the arch of the foot. These particular footprints demonstrate a well-developed arch and a long stride, culminating in a propulsive toe-off similar to us.

By this period, Homo erectus set a precedent for the locomotion seen in future hominin species, including Homo heidelbergensis, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and even the shorter Homo floresiensis.

Paranthropus Genus
Paranthropus Genus
1.2 Million BCE
Hominin, Not Us (2.7 to 1.2 million years ago)
48,000 Generations Ago

Including species like Paranthropus aethiopicus, Paranthropus boisei, and Paranthropus robustus, dating from about 2.7 to 1.2 million years ago. These species are characterized by robust craniodental features, likely related to their diet.

Homo Erectus: Emergence Less Body Hair
Homo Erectus: Emergence Less Body Hair
1.2 Million BCE
Supported by DNA evidence.

As Homo erectus roamed the expansive savannas, a significant evolutionary shift occurred in human ancestors: the reduction of body hair. This adaptation likely enhanced sweat-based cooling systems, crucial for surviving and thriving under the scorching sun during long hunts and foraging activities. While this change marked a general trend towards the hairiness levels observed in modern humans, variations persisted among individuals, reflecting a natural diversity similar to the range seen today. Some members of this early Homo population may have retained slightly more body hair, potentially offering better insulation in cooler climates or during seasonal changes.

Rapid Brain Growth
blue and green peacock feather
800,000 BCE
800,000 to 200,000 BCE

Genus Homo: Rapid brain growth in our human ancestors started about 800,000 BCE. Now, by rapid brain growth we mean about 600,000 years! Larger complex brains helped early humans to survive. They interacted with each other and their surroundings in new and different ways.

Fire-Altered Stone Tools
Fire-Altered Stone Tools
790,000 BCE
Genus Homo
31,600 Generations Ago

Burned flint tools dated to circa 790,000 BCE were discovered at Gesher Benot Ya’aquov, Israel. Control of fire is one of the key traits of the genus Homo.

 

Hominin World Population: 2 Million (speculative)
Hominin World Population: 2 Million (speculative)
700,000 BCE
Highly speculative description.

Other than humans, today, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans make up the smartest primates on Earth. Their combined population ranges from approximately 400,000 to 700,000. The combined population of chimpanzees and bonobos ranges from about 180,000 to 350,000. The gorilla population ranges from approximately 150,000 to 250,000, and orangutans from about 70,000 to 100,000.

With those numbers in mind, the prominent hominins in 700,000 BCE were Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Neanderthal ancestors, and Denisovans. This era predates the emergence of modern humans, and while it’s tempting to assume these ancient relatives were highly successful, precise population estimates are elusive. However, considering Homo erectus’ longevity—having thrived for over a million years—it’s plausible their numbers were substantial. Assuming they were three times more successful than today’s great apes gives a speculative global population of 1.2 to 2.1 million. Here, “worldwide” encompasses Africa and Eurasia, within the walking range of these ancient peoples.

This speculative scenario might break down as follows: Homo erectus, deeply entrenched in various ecological niches, could have numbered around one million across Africa and Asia, including regions now known as China and Indonesia. Homo heidelbergensis, ancestors to both modern humans and Neanderthals, were burgeoning in Africa, possibly numbering around one hundred thousand. Their intelligence and budding linguistic capabilities may have propelled their expansion into Europe and further into Asia. At this stage, the ancestors to Neanderthals, derived from Homo heidelbergensis migrants in Europe, might account for only a few thousand to tens of thousands. The remainder of this hypothetical two million might include smaller populations of less-documented hominin species yet to be discovered. While highly speculative, such estimates help us imagine the ancient world of our predecessors, providing a dynamic tableau of early human life and migration. 

Each hominin species roamed various parts of the world, adapted to their unique environments with varying degrees of tool use, social structure, and mobility.

  1. Homo erectus: Likely the most widespread of the hominins, Homo erectus had already spread from Africa into Asia and parts of Europe. Known for their use of simple stone tools and control of fire, their populations would have been concentrated in East and Southeast Asia, with declining numbers in Africa as newer hominins began to emerge.

  2. Homo heidelbergensis: Emerging around this time, Homo heidelbergensis is thought to be a direct ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans. They were beginning to show more advanced behaviors, including more sophisticated tools and possibly early forms of hunting cooperation and shelter construction.

  3. Neanderthal Ancestors (Pre-Neanderthals): In Europe, the ancestors of Neanderthals, possibly represented by populations evolving from Homo heidelbergensis, were adapting to colder climates, developing the physical traits that would later define classic Neanderthals. These groups were likely small and dispersed, adapting to the ecological niches of Pleistocene Europe.

  4. Denisovans: Though direct evidence from this exact period is lacking, genetic studies suggest that the Denisovan lineage had also branched off by this time. They would have occupied parts of Central and East Asia, though their exact range and lifestyle remain subjects of active research.

  5. Other Archaic Human Forms: There may have been other, less documented hominin forms across Africa and Asia, remnants of earlier migrations and evolutionary offshoots, each contributing to the complex mosaic of human evolution.

This period marked a critical phase in hominin evolution, characterized by significant migrations and environmental adaptations. The ability to manipulate fire and develop new technologies was becoming a defining trait of these groups, setting the stage for the later emergence of more sophisticated cultures and technological innovations.

The speculative nature of this narrative is based on pieced-together evidence from fossil records, archaeological findings, and genetic data. As such, this portrayal should be seen as a broad sketch of what might have been, rather than a definitive account. Each region would have witnessed different challenges and evolutionary pressures, influencing the survival and development of these early human ancestors.

Emergence of Transcendental Intelligence
Emergence of Transcendental Intelligence
Circa 700,000 BCE
Homo heidelbergensis on Earth from about 640,000 to 200,000 BCE.

As Homo heidelbergensis emerged, they distinguished themselves with more advanced behaviors. This period marks a compelling case for the early development of Transcendental Intelligence (TI)—the ability to store information outside the mind and across generations. Homo erectus had already mastered the use of fire and developed more sophisticated stone tools, Homo heidelbergensis took a significant leap forward in cognitive abilities. Although direct evidence of art or jewelry from this era remains elusive, the sophisticated crafting techniques observed in later Neanderthal and Denisovan artifacts, sugest advanced cognitive abilities capable of TI including symbolic thought and and advanced tool making. Neanderthals evolved from Homo heidelbergensis in Europe about 430,000 years ago, and Homo sapiens branched off in Africa about 315,000 years ago.

The speculation that TI developed during this time is grounded in the understanding that the cognitive prerequisites for such advancements—complex problem-solving, abstract thinking, and perhaps rudimentary forms of symbolic communication—were likely present.

Big History Thresholds: 1=Big Bang | 2=Stars&Galaxies | 3=Chemicals | 4=Solar System | 5=First Life | 6=TI | 7=Agrarian | 8=Science

Collective Learning: The 6th threshold in Big History is Collective Learning, what I’ve dubbed Transcendenal Intelligence, the storing of information outside our minds. While Big History has this step set about 200,000 years ago as Homo sapiens emerged, I’ve moved it back to Homo heidelbergensis before Neanderthals and us branched off. After the publication of Big History, neanderthal art was discovered, indicating symbolic thought which might imply TI abilities. 

First Speakers-Full EI: Homo Heidelbergensis
First Speakers-Full EI: Homo Heidelbergensis
600,000 BCE
On Earth from 770,000 to 200,000 years ago.
28,000 Generations Ago

Full Emotional Intelligence Emerges: As a pivotal figure in the lineage leading to modern humans, Homo heidelbergensis heralds the dawn of an era where emotional intelligence began to take a recognizable shape. With indications of complex social structures, potential for language, and advanced tool-making abilities, Homo heidelbergensis navigated their world with a level of social cognition and emotional awareness that likely surpassed their predecessors. Their ability to cooperate in hunting, share resources, care for the injured or ill, and possibly mourn their dead, points towards an emerging capacity for understanding the emotional states of others, fostering group cohesion and survival. The development of these complex social behaviors, supported by potential communicative abilities, marks Homo heidelbergensis as a crucial milestone in the evolution of emotional intelligence. Their cognitive and emotional capabilities set the stage for the intricate social dynamics and moral considerations that would be further refined in their descendants, underpinning the sophisticated forms of EI that characterize Homo sapiens today. They had some of our human characteristics including large brains, small teeth, bipedality, and used tools.

Could Heidelbergensis speak? We believe they had the physical ability to speak (a Hyoid bone), and a complex lifestyle that would require at least simple conversations. For more information, explore archaeological research into the Hyoid bone which is unique to humans today and is required to duplicate our speech.

  • Class: Mammal; Genus: Homo; Diet: Omninivore
  • Brain Size: 1,100 to 1,400 cm³ (humans=avg=1,350; 1,200 to 1,500 cm³)
  • Brain to Body EQ: 4.5 to 5.5 (humans=7.4 to 7.8)
  • Evolved in Africa about 770,000 YA, spread to Europe by 500,000 YA.
  • Spread through Africa, Europe, and Asia.
  • Last known: Africa until about 200,000 YA. 
  Male Female
Avg. Height 5’9″ 5’2″
Avg. Weight 136 lbs 112 lbs
Neanderthal Branch Off with True Symbolic Thought
Neanderthal Branch Off with True Symbolic Thought
430,000 BCE
On Earth from 430,000 to 29,000 BCE
16,000 Generations Ago

True symbolic thought emerges before 430,000 BCE: The discovery in 2018 of Neanderthal art dating back to 68,000 years ago, proved symbolic thought in Neanderthals. It also indicates strongly that symbolic thought evolved in or before our common ancestor about 430,000 years ago. This must be true unless either they evolved it separately in an example of convergent evolution or we’re wrong about the art, meaning we’re wrong about our idea that humans were not in Spain until after that art. (see my Occam’s Razor article.) 

See Beyond the Brain: Reassessing Neanderthal Intelligence, for more information. Humans and Neanderthals had a common ancestor about 430,000 BCE (current estimates range from 430,000 to 450,000 BCE). Humans did not evolve from Neanderthals, but both are the current evolution of a common ancestor: Homo Heidelbergensis. After the split, Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals interbred up to and as recently as 29,000 BCE. Through DNA testing we can identify DNA that came from interbreeding with Neanderthals. They built shelters, wore clothes, used tools, and spoke. Neanderthal DNA in modern humans is the highest in East Asians, intermediate in Europeans, and lower in Southeast Asians.

  • Class: Mammal; Genus: Homo; Diet: Omninivore
  • Brain Size: 1,200 to 1,700 cm³ (humans=avg=1,350; 1,200 to 1,500 cm³)
  • Brain to Body EQ: 4.5 to 5.5, but maybe 6.2, or even 7.9? (humans=7.4 to 7.8)
  • Evolved in Europe, spread to Africa and the Middle East.
  • Last known: 29,000 BCE in the mountains of Polar Ural, northeastern part of Komi, Russian Federation.
Oldest Surviving Spear
Oldest Surviving Spear
350,000 BCE
400,000 to 300,000 BCE
14,000 Generations Ago

Homo heidelbergensis: Long spears made hunting large animals more safe. The oldest wooden spears found so far were found in Germany and dates to circa 400,000 BCE. In fact, they are currently the oldest known wooden artifacts. The find included 3 wooden spears, stone tools, and the butchered remains of more than 10 horses.

These spears have the same qualities as modern tournament javelins and can be thrown over 200 feet. The workmanlike qualities of the heavily worked wood were similar to modern javelins where the heaviest thickest part of the spear, the center of gravity, is in the front third.

Homo Sapiens: Advanced Transcendental Intelligence
Skull
315,000 BCE
12,600 Generations Ago

The first humans evolved in Africa about 315,000 BCE. These first humans had most of the traits we identify as human including looking and thinking much as we do. They used brain power, innovation, and teamwork. They spoke and controlled fire. Their lives were complex. Over the next 250,000 years they evolved into us. By about 150,000 BCE our current capabilities were mostly evolved. Today’s humans have essentially the same DNA as humans from circa 60,000 BCE.

With the emergence of Homo sapiens, the landscape of consciousness witnessed the dawn of Transcendental Intelligence (TI)—a level of cognitive and cultural sophistication unmatched in the natural world. The 2018 discovery of Neanderthal cave paintings, which dates back over 64,000 years, compellingly extends the evidence of TI to at least 400,000 years ago, demonstrating advanced cognitive abilities such as symbolic thought and artistic expression.

This era, spanning several hundred thousand years, is distinguished not only by the development of complex languages and profound knowledge systems but also by the ability to actively transmit culture, art, and technology. Homo sapiens harnessed TI to shape their environments, conceive abstract concepts, and establish societies with intricate social norms and belief systems. Similarly, Neanderthals, with their complex behaviors and symbolic practices, demonstrated a capacity for TI that suggests a broader cognitive potential within the genus Homo. As modern AI systems begin to replicate aspects of TI in information processing and communication, they reflect humanity’s ongoing quest to understand and replicate the depths of its own intelligence. However, the quintessential human experiences of consciousness, emotion, and cultural identity remain unparalleled, emphasizing the profound mystery and uniqueness of human cognition and its evolution over millennia.

 

 

Neanderthal-Denisovan Split
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spread_and_Evolution_of_Denisovans.jpg
300,000 BCE
500 to 30 Thousand BCE
12,000 Generations Ago

Neanderthals and Denisovans in the genus Homo had a common ancestor about 300,000 BCE (current estimates range from 250,000 to 500,000 BCE and possibly as far back as 1.3 million BCE). Humans did not evolve from Denisovans nor Neanderthals, but both were the evolution descendant of a common ancestor with Homo Sapiens tentatively identified as Homo Heidelbergensis. After Denisovans and Neanderthals split, Homo Sapiens and Denisovans interbred up to and as recently as 30,000 BCE. Through DNA testing we can identify DNA that came from interbreeding with Denisovans. Denisovans became extinct about 30,000 BCE. They built shelters, wore clothes, used tools, and spoke. Denisovans likely had dark skin, brown hair, and brown eyes.

The highest percent of Denisovan DNA in modern humans is in Melanesian population ranges; it ranges from 4 to 6 percent, lower in other Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander populations, and nearly undetectable elsewhere in the world.

The common ancestor with Homo Sapiens is tentatively identified as Homo Heidelbergensis which lived from about 600,000 to 200,000 BCE.

Venus of Tan-Tan
Venus of Tan-Tan
300,000 BCE
Africa; 300,000 to 500,000 years ago

Found in Morocco, this natural pebble with human-like features is possibly the oldest known example of a figurine or representation of the human form.

Hominin World Population: 2 Million (maybe)
Hominin World Population: 2 Million (maybe)
300,000 BCE
Very speculative.

At the time when Homo sapiens were just beginning to emerge, the population of Homo sapiens and their close ancestors in Africa was likely a few hundred thousand or less. However, the overall hominin success was thriving. Though speculative, estimates could reasonably range from 1.1 to 2.1 million for all hominin species. This range is a wild guess based on the fact that the combined population today for chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans in the wild ranges from approximately 400,000 to 700,000.

This period was characterized by significant evolutionary developments, with Homo sapiens in nascent stages primarily in Africa, while other hominins like Neanderthals, Homo heidelbergensis, and possibly remnants of Homo erectus occupied broader ranges across Eurasia. In Africa, emerging Homo sapiens accounted for a small fraction of the population, while other established hominins like Homo heidelbergensis dominated, indicative of their adaptive successes in various ecological niches. In Europe and Asia, Neanderthals and Denisovans were adapting to their environments, with sophisticated tool-use and social structures that likely supported their survival in challenging climates. While Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Medditeranean, and Asia including China had significant populations, hominins had not made it to the Americas yet not to the Oceana-Australasia zone.

The speculative nature of this narrative underscores the dynamic yet unclear picture of early hominin distribution and interaction, highlighting the need for caution in interpreting these ancient population dynamics.

This narrative, while speculative, helps us imagine the ancient world.

Bhimbetka Petroglyphs, Cupules
Bhimbetka Petroglyphs, Cupules
Before 290,000 BCE
Hominins; 290,000 to 700,000 years ago

Found in central India, these cupules (circular hollows on rock surfaces) are among the earliest known forms of rock art.

Adam: Haplogroup A
Haplogroup A, screenshot from 23andme.com
275,000 BCE
11,000 Generations Ago

All humans today share a single grandpa, circa 275,000 BCE. We know this because all humans alive today share our ancestor’s haplogroup A genes — from our Y chromosome. He was one of many thousands of men living in eastern Africa. Many paternal lines survived for many generations but ultimately over time all the other male lineages died out. Adam’s descendants met our Eve about 100,000 years later–about 4,000 generations later.

Extinction: Homo naledi
Extinction: Homo naledi
236,000 Years Ago

Homo naledi and humans coexisted in South and East Africa from our emergence around 315,000 years ago until their extinction about 236,000 years ago. It is possible that we share a common ancestor with them, but research is pending. Homo naledi lived in South Africa from 335,000 to 236,000 years ago, and our earliest evidence for Homo sapiens put us originating in East Africa.

Imagined Image: A speculative scene of several Homo naledi individuals around a natural fire source, set in an ancient South African landscape. This visualization highlights the social and survival aspects of early hominin life.

Extinction: Homo heidelbergensis
Extinction: Homo heidelbergensis
200,000 Years Ago

Homo heidelbergensis lived in Africa, Europe and Asia from 700,000 to 200,000 years ago. They coexisted with humans in Africa, Europe, and Asia from our emergence around 315,000 years ago until their extinction about 200,000 years ago.

Imagined Image: A Homo heidelbergensis campsite a few thousand years before they went extinct, set in a lush European forest. The scene includes several individuals in a communal setting, showcasing aspects of their life and environment.

Phenotype Variations: Hair Types & Colors
Phenotype Variations: Hair Types & Colors
circa 175,000 BCE

Global Spectrum of Hair Types in Humans

Reference Date: Circa 175,000 years ago

As descendants of Haplogroup L began to populate different regions, a wide range of hair textures and colors emerged. This diversification allowed humans to adapt their hair type to environmental conditions, from straight hair in colder climates to curlier forms in humid, warmer areas, enhancing their survival and reproductive success.

Eve: Haplogroup L
Haplogroup L, 23andme.com screenshot.
175,000 BCE
200,000 to 150,000 BCE
7,000 Generations Ago

All humans today share a single grandma, circa 175,000 BCE. We know this because all humans alive today share our ancestor’s haplogroup L genes — from our X chromosome. She was one of many thousands of women living in eastern Africa. Many maternal lines survived for many generations but ultimately over time all the other female lineages died out.

Modern Human Looks and Brains
lover couple of caucasian male and female lay down at the beach relaxing
150,000 BCE
200,000 to 150,000 BCE
6,000 Generations Ago

By circa 150,000 BCE, the size of our brain and it’s capabilities matured. Think about this. A human born today and a human born in 150,000 BCE had roughly the same mental and physical capacities. This includes all of our traits including our need for attention and power, our ingenuity, our gullibility to believe things, and our intolerance of the unknown and different. If a human from this time landed in a modern morgue, the doctor performing yet another autopsy would most likely think it was a modern human.

How many times since 150,000 BCE did humans create new religions and Gods? How many times did they discover or invent things that were then lost for thousands of years? Human knowledge builds on previous knowledge, but only if it can be passed down, and survive the test of time. It’s reasonable to believe that various forms of writing and labels were developed and lost countless times. Many interesting advances developed, and lost. No doubt, the stubborn belief in myth or dogma has led directly to the suppression of various human advances countless times. Many times through the use of war and genocide.

Let’s look at just one modern human example. We know the Greeks several thousand years ago knew the Earth was a globe. Over time, the information, the advance, was lost because of the belief in myth and a desire to control others.

 

Many Early Out of Africa Migrations
Many Early Out of Africa Migrations
120,000 BCE
130,000 to 100,000 BCE

The “out of Africa” migration took place in many waves of which two are widely recognized: 130,000 to 100,000 BCE, and the Southern Dispersal around 70,000 to 50,000 BCE. Through genetic DNA testing we know that none of the genetic differences prior to circa 70,000 BCE exist in today’s humans.

Blombos Cave Engravings
Blombos Cave Engravings
75,000 BCE

Earliest known symbol use in the Africa/Middle East zone. 

Located in South Africa, the cave contains engraved ochre pieces, which are among the earliest known forms of abstract art.

Oldest Known Bracelet
Oldest Known Bracelet
70,000 BCE
2,880 Generations Ago

Denisovan: This bracelet dates from 70,000 to 40,000 BCE. It was discovered inside the Denisova Cave beside ancient human remains. The Denisova Cave is a cave located in Siberia, Russia. Other cave finds include woolly mammoth and woolly rhino bones. Scientists say there is evidence that the bracelet’s maker used a drill. This is the earliest known example of advanced drilling in the world.

Head of the museum Irina Salnikova said: ‘The skills of its creator were perfect. Initially we thought that it was made by Neanderthals or modern humans, but it turned out that the master was Denisovan.” This has led to speculation that these earliest humans, Denisovans, were more technologically advanced than previously thought. If true, it might be that the Denisovans were more skilled than Homo sapiens and Neanderthals of the time.

Like Neanderthal DNA, Denisovan DNA exists in modern humans. Non-African East Asians and Europeans have about 2% Neanderthal DNA. Modern Melanesians derived about 5% of their DNA from Denisovans.

Imagine image: A group of Denisovans, clad in animal skins and adorned with fur trimmings, gathers in the rugged valley of the Altai Mountains, dating back to around 40,000 to 70,000 years ago. A prominent individual showcases a bright green, polished jade bracelet, signaling sophisticated craftsmanship. Their robust features, including wide skulls and strong brows, are highlighted as they engage in what appears to be an important communal discussion.
The Settlement of Australia
The Settlement of Australia
65,000 BCE
Homo sapiens or an earlier Homo species
2,600 Generations Ago (from 2020 CE)

Long before the sails of European explorers dotted the horizon, the Australian continent witnessed the arrival of its first human inhabitants. Archaeological evidence, such as ancient tools and cave art, suggests that people arrived in Australia at least 65,000 years ago, marking one of the earliest known human migrations out of Africa. These first Australians, ancestors of today’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, developed rich cultural traditions and adapted to the diverse environments of the continent, from its arid deserts to its lush coastlines. Their legacy is a testament to human resilience and ingenuity, shaping the land that would later be known as Australia for tens of thousands of years before European contact.

Extinction: Homo luzonensis
Extinction: Homo luzonensis
65,000 BCE
Homo luzonensis inhabited the Philipinnes until approximately 67,000 years ago.

Possible Overlap with Homo sapiens: Depending on the exact dating of Homo luzonensis remains, there is a possibility that they co-existed with Homo sapiens for a period of time in the Philippines. Early estimates of Homo sapiens reaching Southeast Asia place them around 50,000 years ago, potentially overlapping with the later range of Homo luzonensis existence.

Imagined Image: A small group of Homo luzonensis in a dense tropical forest on Luzon. This visualization emphasizes their survival strategies and interactions within their lush habitat.

“The” Human DNA
Spiral strands of DNA on the dark background
60,000 BCE
2,400 Generations Ago
2,400 Generations Ago

The modern human DNA evolved sometime between 71,000 and 51,000 BCE. Imagine that. A human baby born today, and a human baby born in 60,000 BCE have nearly indistinguishable DNA. There are differences but essentially humans are the same now as they were then. The popular website 23andme.com focuses on 23 changes in DNA that signify your ancestors recent migration. 23andMe.com, ancestry.com, and many others identify differences for their customers. Finally, the medical community is currently in an intense wave of identifying genetic differences that lead to medical problems with the idea of early diagnosis, prevention, and through the use of mRNA correction.

Through mtDNA sequencing, we currently believe the most recent common ancestor of all the Eurasian, American, Australian, Papua New Guinean, and African lineages dates to between 73,000 and 57,000 years ago.

Successful Out of Africa Migration
Successful Out of Africa Migration
55,000 BCE
70,000 to 55,000 BCE

Through minor DNA changes, we know which early humans have descendants alive today. This successful “out of Africa” migration, the Southern Dispersal, took place around 70,000 to 50,000 BCE. Our ancestors proceeded to colonize all the continents and larger islands, arriving in…

World Population: 1.5 Million
World Population: 1.5 Million
50,000 BCE
Estimates range from 500,000 to 2.5 million

Cognitive Revolution

50,000 BCE – 70,000 BCE. Population range: 500,000 to 2.5 million.
Given the uncertainties and lack of direct data, the following are speculative estimates.

  • Africa-Middle East: 50-60% or 600,000 to 1 million people
    Africa, being the origin of modern humans, likely had the highest population density at this time, particularly in Sub-Saharan regions which were more conducive to human habitation due to their climate and available resources.
  • Asia: 40% or 200,000 to 400,000 people
  • Europe-Mediterranean: 10% or 50,000 to 100,000 people
  • The Americas: 0.
  • Oceana-Australasia: 1% or 10,000 to 15,000 people
    The initial colonization of Australia around 50,000 BCE by modern humans involved small, isolated groups who managed to navigate sea crossings, leading to a very low initial population density. The rest of the remote islands of Oceania were among the last to be reached by humans.

A Shared Earth! Neanderthals-Hobbits-Flourensis

Around this time, Homo sapiens shared the Earth with other hominin species. Neanderthals were still widespread in Europe and parts of western Asia. In Asia, particularly on the islands of Indonesia, Homo floresiensis, often referred to as the “Hobbit” due to their diminutive stature, survived until about 50,000 years ago. Additionally, Denisovans, a less visually documented but genetically distinct group, also roamed Eurasia, leaving behind a genetic legacy that persists in modern humans, particularly among populations in Melanesia.

Extinction: Homo Erectus
Extinction: Homo Erectus
50,000 BCE

Homo erectus and humans last coexisted in Javanese in Asia around 50,000 years ago.

Imagined image above: A late-stage Homo erectus individual in Java, Indonesia, focused on crafting a tool from volcanic rock near a simple fire, set within the lush tropical rainforest. This visualization aims to capture the essence and appearance of Homo erectus during this late stage of their existence.

Imagined Image: A Homo erectus campsite, showing several individuals engaged in various activities within a mixed savannah. This scene captures the communal and daily life aspects of Homo erectus a few thousand years before they went extinct.
Extinction: Homo floresiensis
Extinction: Homo floresiensis
48,000 BCE
58,000 to 48,000 BCE

Homo floresiensis (also known as the “Hobbit”) inhabited the island of Flores in Indonesia until approximately 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, until humans arrived. 

Imagined Image: A small group of Homo floresiensis in their natural habitat on the island of Flores, engaging in daily activities around a communal fire and interacting with the local fauna. This scene captures their unique adaptations and social behaviors within a lush volcanic landscape.

Phenotype Variation: Eye Shape and the Epicanthic Fold
Phenotype Variation: Eye Shape and the Epicanthic Fold
circa 40,000 BCE

The feature of the epicanthic fold, particularly prevalent among East Asian populations descended from Haplogroup A, is an adaptation to cold, windy, and bright environments encountered as humans migrated northward from Africa. This phenotype likely developed to protect the eyes from frostbite and snow blindness, showcasing how genetic diversity within human lineages adapted to specific environmental challenges.

Extinction: Denisovans
Extinction: Denisovans
40,000

Denisovans and humans coexisted in Siberia from about 194,000 to around 40,000 years ago. While their exact cause of extinction remains debated, competition with modern humans and climate change are thought to be contributing factors.

Imagined image: Set in Siberia around 45,000 years ago, a group of Denisovans is depicted in their winter camp, surrounded by a snow-laden forest. They are dressed in heavy fur clothing, complete with detailed, fur-lined boots, essential for the extreme cold. Their camp, featuring sturdy shelters made from wood and animal skins, centers around a warm, bustling fire, highlighting their advanced survival strategies and social cohesion in the harsh climate.

Extinction: Neanderthals
Extinction: Neanderthals
38,000 BCE
Extinction range: 38,000 BCE to 22,000 BCE

Homo neanderthalensis: Neanderthals and humans coexisted in Europe and Asia until around 40,000 years ago. While their exact cause of extinction remains debated, competition with modern humans and climate change are thought to be contributing factors.

Imagined image: Left is a neanderthal, right a human. Just as human looks vary widely, Neanderthals did too. This is perhaps one way neanderthals might have looked. The likely looked a bit more human than this too, but this gives you a good idea of the differences.

Advanced Sewing Needles
Advanced Sewing Needles
28,000 BCE
28,000 to 21,000 BCE
1,200 Generations Ago

Humans used bone and ivory needles like these about 28,000 BCE to sew warm, closely fitted garments. These bone needles are from Xiaogushan, Liaoning Province, China, and are dated to about 28,000 to 21,000 BCE.

Phenotype Variation: Blue Eyes
Photo of Woman With Blue Eyes and Black Hair
8000 BCE
Genetic Mutation from the Neolithic Era

Blue eyes emerged

stands out as a striking example of a genetic mutation that spread across populations. Traced back to a single individual living between 6,000 and 8,000 BCE in the region near the Black Sea, this genetic adaptation marks a notable divergence in the genetic makeup of modern humans. The mutation involved is a specific change in the OCA2 gene, which alters the way melanin is produced in the iris. Originally, all humans had brown eyes, but this mutation led to the reduction of melanin in the iris, resulting in blue eyes.

This change likely occurred during the Neolithic period, a time of significant human development and migration. As communities expanded and migrated from the Near East into Europe, the gene for blue eyes spread, becoming particularly prevalent among European populations. The spread of this trait exemplifies how a single genetic mutation can influence the physical characteristics of populations over thousands of years.

The occurrence of blue eyes in a single ancestor highlights the interconnectedness of human populations and the shared genetic heritage that links diverse groups back to common ancestors. This story not only reflects the complexity of human genetics but also the way in which our aesthetic and phenotypic diversity has evolved over millennia from relatively small genetic changes.

Phenotype Variation: Lactose Tollerance
Phenotype Variation: Lactose Tollerance
7500 BCE

As dairy farming became prevalent, particularly in Europe and some African communities, natural selection favored individuals who could digest lactose into adulthood. This genetic adaptation, known as lactase persistence, is a direct result of human cultural practices (dairying) and has had significant dietary implications.

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