SECTION THREE: THE ORIGIN OF MANKIND
One: Humans are the Product of Evolution
Today we can say with certainty that humans are the product of evolution—a miracle of life formed through mutation, inheritance, and natural selection.
Humans and Hominoidea (apes) originate from the same ancestor, the earliest of which can be traced back to Africa. Apes are a close relative of humans, while chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans have all shared common ancestors with humans.
The ancestors of mankind can be traced back to the Egyptian ape about thirty million years ago. Around ten to twenty million years ago, humans and apes began to move in two different evolutionary directions; one developed into the modern human, and the other developed into the modern ape. However, the Egyptian ape cannot be called the ancestor of mankind. The true ancestor of mankind—the first to step over the human threshold—is the Australopithecus.
The Australopithecus lived in Southern Africa about 4.4 to 1 million years ago; its brain capacity was about 35 percent of the modern man’s, which is 20 percent higher than that of the chimpanzee.
The early Australopithecus was divided into two branches: one burlier in build, and the other more slender. The burlier branch was eliminated through evolution in the Pleistocene epoch, while the slenderer branch evolved into the ancestors of mankind. The burlier branch evolved studier, stronger limbs to better adapt to the environment; the slenderer branch evolved brainpower and flexibility to better suit their living environments. As evidenced by reality, wisdom of mind surpasses strength of body and is more conducive to adapting to the environment.
Currently, recognized fossils of Australopithecus have only been discovered in Africa. So why did humans and apes split ways on the path of evolution? Archaeological excavations of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula have yielded the following conclusions:
The Great Rift Valley split East Africa into two halves from south to north. A series of canyons and lakes formed a natural barrier between the biology existing on the east and west sides, creating two independent developmental environments. The Australopithecus living in the west adapted well to the moist grove environment where rain and food sources were abundant and survival was easy. They evolved to become today’s living apes. On the east side, the environment was much harsher. The climate was dry and food source was scarce. The Australopithecus had to struggle in order to satisfy basic survival needs. They had to prevent attacks from large carnivores and also ward against sudden volcanic eruptions. Due to these difficult conditions, many perished and only a small portion survived and evolved to cross over the human threshold. Therefore, humans come from the small number of winners who survived the struggle against a harsh world. We are the strongest adaptors.
Between 1.9 million and 1.65 million years ago, the earliest group capable of manufacturing tools appeared. They were known as Homo habilis. The fossils of Homo habilis were first discovered in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Other fossils were discovered later in other parts of Eastern Africa. The Homo habilis possessed much larger brain capacity than the Australopithecus, reaching more than 50 percent of the capacity of the modern brain, with similar overall shape and grooves. Homo habilis were capable of attacking beasts with simple stone tools, cutting fur, and mashing nuts, and they might possibly have possessed linguistic communication skills.
The genus member more evolved than Homo habilis was Homo erectus. Homo erectus fossils were first discovered in the Trinil area of Java, Indonesia, in 1891. Fossils were also found in other parts of the world. With the exception of the Americas and Oceania, Homo erectus fossils were found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. China’s Peking Man and Lantian Man are all Homo erectus.
The Homo erectus lived between two million to 200,000 years ago. Their brain capacity was over 60 percent of the modern man’s, and they were able to create very sophisticated stone tools.
The most important characteristic of the Homo erectus was the ability to use fire. The use of fire not only made meat more delicious and previously inedible things edible, but it also prevented against animal attacks and guaranteed warmth in the winter. Fire played a critical role in the ultimate separation between humans and animals . . . and the final evolution of man.
The evolutionary species that came after Homo erectus was Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens can be divided into early Homo sapiens and late Homo sapiens.Early Homo sapiens lived around 300,000 to 100,000 years ago, and late
Homo sapiens lived 100,000 years ago. Late Homo sapiens were anatomically similar to modern humans, which is why modern humans are known anatomically as Homo sapiens.
In addition, about 120,000 to 30,000 years ago, a highly evolved race known as the Neanderthals lived in Europe and West Asia. Neanderthals are so named because their first fossils were discovered in the Düssel River’s Neander Valley; they are also occasionally called “the Neanderthal Man.” Neanderthals do not belong to the same species as the modern man but are a species of archaic humans, while modern humans fall under the Homo sapiens species. However, according to recent studies, scientists believe that Neanderthal genes can be found in most modern humans, which means that modern man had sexual contact with Neanderthals. Although Neanderthals became extinct some thirty thousand years ago, modern man has passed on information from the Neanderthals, to some extent.
Two: The Characteristics of Human Evolution
Humans, like all other animals, are the product of evolution, yet humans went down a completely different evolutionary path. In the bitter cold of the Ice Age, nature evolved the woolly rhino and mammoth, providing Rhinocerotidae and Elephantidae animals with thick fur and skin to withstand raging cold winds; to adapt to thick-skinned herbivores like the woolly rhino and mammoth, the saber-toothed tiger evolved out of feline predators; the antelope developed speed to outrun carnivorous predators; the giraffe evolved from Ruminantia to reach higher vegetation; the hedgehog developed burrs to protect itself; the chameleon evolved to change color according to its surrounding in order to better camouflage itself, and so on.
The evolution of mankind differs significantly from all other animals. Man started evolving through the brain. All of their environmental adaptions are based on the brain (relative to the evolution of the brain, the other aspects of evolution are secondary). Counting from the starting point of evolution, humans have increased their brain capacity threefold in less than ten million years. Mastering this key of evolution was very important; once humans completed this evolutionary process, it was taken for granted that they became masters of Earth.