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40.1: Humans as a species

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    The evolution of humans began 13.8 billion years ago with the Big Bang itself, which set in motion the forces and energy that would make our history all possible (though, not inevitable!). Elements created and compounds formed after this event would eventually form our planet, Earth. At some point after 4 billion years ago, living, self-replicating materials formed that would become our first ancestors. In order for this to happen, these early life forms had to use resources from their environment to survive and thrive.

    So it is with humans today. All life extracts energy and nutrients from its environment for respiration, digestion, and procreation. Our species, and some of our ancestors, took this extraction to a new level. They developed tools. These tools made resource extraction much more effective, leading to new evolutionary pressures, more adaptations, and eventually, you and me.

    This case study examines the development of our species. The story is a long one, so this is merely a summary. Ultimately, it serves to highlight several aspects of humans. Two threads of hominid evolution are emphasized. We explore the evolution of tool use among hominids as a way of exploring the development of human intelligence and our species’ ever-increasing ability to extract resources from its environment. We also explore some of the particular anatomical features of hominid skulls as a way of showcasing hominid physiological development.

    Here are some of the key threads that are woven together in this chapter:

    1. Like other organisms, anatomically modern humans evolved in a manner consistent with evolutionary theory.

    2. Hominid evolution can be traced using fossils and comparative anatomy.

    3. Like other organisms, humans extract energy and alter their environment to survive.

    4. Human ingenuity with tools began deep in hominid history, and is not unique to anatomically modern humans.

    Before you dive into the specifically human part of the story, you are encouraged to begin with a larger view of our mammalian past as a review. Watch the video below:

    This page titled 40.1: Humans as a species is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Callan Bentley, Karen Layou, Russ Kohrs, Shelley Jaye, Matt Affolter, and Brian Ricketts (VIVA, the Virginia Library Consortium) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.