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Human Evolution Timeline

Timelines and Charts

In our own times "Darwinian" evolutionary theory is widely applied both to primates and to Human Beings.
For example the following image is attributable to The National Museum of Natural History - Washington, D.C.

human evolutionary theory tree


Science has come to accept that the evolution of Human Beings took place over many tens of millions of years.

chart showing emergence of hominids and Human Beings

The extent of this timeline is such that the term "MYA" is used as shorthand for "Million Years Ago" when making reference to various stages on the Human Evolution Timeline and the term "YA" is similarly used for "Years Ago" when making references to more recent stages of this timeline.

55 MYA
First primitive primates appear as a result of even earlier and protracted processes of evolution.

8 - 6 MYA
First gorillas evolve. Later, chimp, bonobo and human lineages diverge from Gorilla-like ancestor species.

5.5 MYA
Ardipithecus, early "proto-human" shares traits with chimps and gorillas, and is forest-dwelling.

Ardipithecus Ramidus and the Human Evolution Timeline
Ardipithecus Ramidus and the Human Evolution Timeline.
SOURCES: Science - AAAS, National Museum of Natural History's department of anthropology / Illustration by J.H. MATTERNES; Graphic by The Washington Post - Oct. 1, 2009

Modern Science has come to classify individually identifiable life-forms as being Species with such Species typically being members of a Genus of related species. A significant stage of the Human Evolution Timeline was reached when the Genus Australopithecus emerged from previous types of primate life.

Australopithecines appear. They have brains no larger than a chimpanzee's - with a volume around 400 - 500 cm3. Australopithecenes are held to have been fairly capable of walking upright on two legs and are considered to have been amongst the earliest human ancestors to live on the savannah.

3.2 MYA
Lucy, famous specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, lives near what is now Hadar, Ethiopia.
Another highly significant stage of the Human Evolution Timeline is held to have been reached when the Genus Homo emerged from previous types of life. Homo Erectus (H. erectus) has become recognised as being one of the earliest identifiable species within this emergent Genus.

chart showing hominid physical and behavioral adaptations
Evolutionary timeline chart of important anatomical, behavioral and life history characteristics that were once thought to be associated with the origin of the genus Homo or the earliest instances of Homo Erectus. Credit: Anton et al., Science 2014.

2.5 MYA
Homo habilis appears. Its face protrudes less than earlier hominids, but still retains many ape features. Has a brain volume of around 600 cm3.
Hominids start to use stone tools regularly, created by splitting pebbles - this starts Oldowan tradition of toolmaking, which last a million years.
Some hominids develop meat-rich diets as scavengers, the extra energy may have favoured the evolution of larger brains.

Evidence of Homo ergaster, with a brain volume of up to 850 cm3, in Africa.

1.8 - 1.5 MYA
Homo erectus is found in Asia. First true hunter-gatherer ancestor, and also first to have migrated out of Africa in large numbers. It attains a brain size of around 1000 cm3.

1.6 MYA
Possible first sporadic use of fire suggested by discoloured sediments in Koobi Fora, Kenya. More convincing evidence of charred wood and stone tools is found in Israel and dated to 780,000 years ago.

600,000 YA
Homo Heidelbergensis lives in Africa and Europe. Similar brain capacity to modern humans.

400,000 YA
Early humans begin to hunt with spears.

280,000 YA
First complex stone blades and grinding stones.

230,000 YA
Neanderthals appear and are found across Europe, from Britain in the west to Iran in the east, until they become extinct some 28,000 years ago.

195,000 YA
Our own species Homo sapiens appears on the scene - and shortly after begins to migrate across Asia and Europe. Oldest modern human remains are two skulls found in Ethiopia that date to this period. Average human brain volume is 1350 cm3.

170,000 YA
Mitochondrial Eve, the direct ancestor to all living people today, may have been living in Africa. Mitochondrial DNA is transmitted only through the female line and investigations appear to show that all modern people are descended from "Mitochondrial Eve".

50,000 YA
"Great leap forward": human culture starts to change much more rapidly than before; people begin burying their dead ritually; create clothes from animal hides; and develop complex hunting techniques, such as pit-traps.

10,000 YA
Agriculture develops and spread. First villages. Possible domestication of dogs.

5,500 YA
Stone Age ends and Bronze Age begins. Humans begin to smelt and work copper and tin, and use them in place of stone implements.

6,000 to 5,500 YA
The Sumerians of Mesopotamia develop the world's first civilisation.