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The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
In One Awesome Chart

How we humans developed the unique traits that separate us from our ancient ancestors is a scientific puzzle whose solution is ongoing. From fossils to food cultivation to social structure, the story of human evolution is written from many angles. This timeline shows some of the primary distinguishing characteristics of humans and when scientists believe they appeared on the scene.

Milestones in Human Uniqueness

A timeline showing some of the primary distinguishing characteristics of humans and where in time scientists place them on the evolutionary scene.

  • Tool Making: 2.5-2.1 million years ago
  • Bipedalism: 1.9 million years ago
  • Extended Childhood:1.5 million years ago
  • Big Brain: 800-200 thousand years ago
  • Art: 540-40 thousand years ago
  • Burying The Dead: 100-90 thousand years ago
  • Domestication Of Non Livestock: 30-9 thousand years ago
  • Agriculture: 12-11 thousand years ago
  • Domestication Of Livestock: 11-4 thousand years ago

The evolution of human uniqueness, in 1 awesome chart. Here's a timeline showing the development of our own humanity.

  • Tool Making: 2.5-2.1 million years ago
    • The earliest evidence of stone tool-making - collectively referred to as "Oldowan" or "Olduwan" - is by Homo habilis and has been found in Tanzania, Ethiopia, and other African locations. Typical tools were "choppers" - stones with flakes removed to create a cutting edge.
  • Bipedalism: 1.9 million years ago
    • While the earliest bipedal humans date as far back as 7-6 million years ago, the best peg for full bipedalism is 1.9 million years ago; this is the time of Homo erectus who had a pelvis and thigh bones indicating it could walk long distances.
  • Extended Childhood: 1.5 million years ago
    • Somewhere along the human evolutionary line between about 1.2-1.5 million years ago and 200,000 years ago, our human ancestors extended our childhood by six years. These added developmental years helped increase our brain size, which helped us adapt exceedingly well to our particular experiences and environments, ultimately leading to our survival as a species.
  • Big Brain: 800-200 thousand years ago
    • Most rapid increase of human brain size occurred between 800,000 to 200,000 years ago, coinciding with a period of dramatic climate change; bigger brains may have made the early humans more adaptable.
  • Art: 540-40 thousand years ago
    • New archaeological discoveries keep pushing the origins of art (which is indicative of advanced cognition and the ability to think abstractly) back in time. Evidence to date includes shell engraving dating some 540,000 years ago and cave drawings and musical instruments going back some 40,000-43,000 years ago.
  • Burying The Dead: 100-90 thousand years ago
    • Iffy as humanly unique. While a burial site in Israel of very early Homo sapiens skeletons date from 90,000 to 100,000 years ago, 50,000-year-old bones found in France belonged to a Neanderthal believed to have been intentionally buried. Some posit that the Homo naledi bones discovered in South Africa in 2013 were the result of burial. Also, scientists recognize that other species including apes, dolphins, elephants, and crows appear to recognize, even acknowledge death.
  • Domestication of Non Livestock: 30-9 thousand years ago
    • The domestication of dogs is thought to have taken place sometime between 18,000 and 30,000 years ago when dogs diverged from wild wolves and began encroaching on human settlements for food scraps. Egyptian art makes the case that domesticated cats date back to 4,000 years ago, while more recent research places cats' domestication around 8,000-9,000 years ago in Cyprus.
  • Agriculture: 12-11 thousand years ago
    • The advent of agriculture around 10,000 years ago was nothing short of revolutionary, with nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles giving way to permanent settlements. Evidence of early crops include fig tress planted in Syria as are back as 11,300 years ago and rice grown in China 7,000-9,000 years ago.
  • Domestication of Livestock: 11-4 thousand years ago
    • The domestication of livestock goes back more than 11,000 years. Evidence suggests that cattle, sheep, and goats were some of the earliest domesticated animals, while donkeys, horses and chickens were domesticated more recently, between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago. The modern cow can be traced back to a single herd of 10,500-year-old wild ox; the domestication and distribution of chickens in 2,000 BC was caused predominately by the sport of cockfighting.

From World Science Festival Staff (Courtesy World Science Festival)

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The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
In One Awesome Chart