Skip Navigation

11.28: Human Evolution

Difficulty Level: Basic Created by: CK-12
Atoms Practice
Estimated2 minsto complete
Practice Human Evolution
This indicates how strong in your memory this concept is
Estimated2 minsto complete
Estimated2 minsto complete
Practice Now
This indicates how strong in your memory this concept is
Turn In

What is a "cave man"?

What if you were to wake up with a group of Neanderthals? They were close relatives to modern humans. Still you might find them to be a bit different from your usual friends.

Human Evolution

Humans evolved during the later Cenozoic. New fossil discoveries continue to alter the details of what we know about human evolution. The major evolutionary events are well understood though.

Primate Ancestors

Humans evolved from primates, but humans did not evolve from apes. Apes and humans have a primate common ancestor. About 7 million years ago, chimpanzees (our closest living relatives) and humans shared their last common ancestor.


Animals of the genus Ardipithecus lived roughly 4 to 6 million years ago. These animals had brains roughly the size of a female chimp. Although they lived in trees, they were bipedal. That is they could stand on two feet. What are the advantages to being bipedal? An organism that can stand up can see farther. This is important if you live in a grassland. A bipedal organism uses its hands and arms for hunting.

Another human ancestor Australopithecus afarensis lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago. These animals were completely bipedal. Their brains grew rapidly across the generations (Figure below).

Australopithecus afarensis is a human ancestor that lived about 3 million years ago.


The genus Homo appeared about 2.5 million years ago. These human-like primates developed the first stone tools. Homo erectus evolved in Africa about 1.8 million years ago. Fossils of these animals show a much more human-like body structure. This allowed them to travel long distances to hunt. Cultures began and evolved.

Homo sapiens

Homo sapiens is our species. We originated about 200,000 years ago in Africa. Evidence of a spiritual life appears about 32,000 years ago. The evidence includes stone figurines that probably have religious significance (Figure below).

Stone figurines likely indicate a spiritual life.

The ice ages allowed humans to migrate. During the ice ages, water was frozen in glaciers. Land bridges such as the Bering Strait allowed humans to walk from the Old World to the New World.


  • Australopithecus afarensis was completely bipedal and had a growing brain.
  • Homo erectus evolved 1.8 million years ago. These organisms left behind signs of an early culture.
  • Our species is Homo sapiens. We evolved 200,000 years ago in Africa and spread.


Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

Human Evolution Made Easy at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7Y34zrJjtk (9:39)

  1. What was Darwin's little heresy?
  2. Who was Huxley?
  3. Where was the first Neanderthal found?
  4. What was the problem with the fossil evidence from Africa?
  5. List the traits that separate humans from apes?
  6. What did DNA indicate?
  7. What does mitochondrial RNA indicate?


  1. Why is being bipedal a good thing?
  2. Did humans evolve from apes? Explain.
  3. What makes Homo sapiens different from Homo erectus?

Notes/Highlights Having trouble? Report an issue.

Color Highlighted Text Notes
Show More


ape The group of primates that includes gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans.
Homo The genus of great apes that includes Homo sapiens (modern humans) and extinct human ancestors, such as Homo neanderthalensis.
primate The group of mammals that includes lemurs, monkeys and apes.

Image Attributions

Show Hide Details
Difficulty Level:
6 , 7
Date Created:
Jan 04, 2013
Last Modified:
Aug 29, 2016
Files can only be attached to the latest version of Modality
Please wait...
Please wait...
Image Detail
Sizes: Medium | Original