For millions of years, our planet has been floating in space and millions of creatures have lived on its surface. Many a quant being was among them, but they affected only our human imagination. In the evolutionary struggle, we are the only ones who have obtained the advantage of reason. Reaching it was far from easy. Its origin dates back 20 million years to those fruit-eating creatures that lived in African trees called Proconsul. They romped about in trees far above the terrestrial dangers, feeding on fruits and leaves.
Depending on the species, they varied in size from the marmoset to the gorilla. They even hardly cared about the world below. Proconsuls climbed about the branches on all fours and almost exactly resembled the modern-day macaque. Their upper and lower limbs were of the same size. They moved leaning on open palms instead of bent fingers. A few fossils of Proconsuls have been found in East Africa. The skull was primitive; the brain was small and simple. Yet, the comparatively small size of their muzzle and canine teeth suggests non-aggressiveness which was one of the major features that led to reason.
10 million years ago, a drop in temperature made the African jungle sparse which became impossible to move from tree to tree via branches. The descendent of Proconsuls – Ardipithecus who were forced to leave the trees, began moving on their rear limbs. Their feet were still prehensile, but with special arches that allowed bipedalism. The nearly complete skeleton of the Ardipithecus named Ardi proves that these creatures were able to walk but not as easily as we do. The arms of Ardipithecus were knee-length, and the hands were half human and half apelike. The first steps were taken to climb the next tree but Ardipithecus didn’t want to leave the tree crowns, their habitual homes. They were indeed the intermediate between humans and apes, as all of the Ardi’s features mediate entirely apelike and entirely human features.
- Gracile Australopiths
Life moved on, and trees became sparse and Africa turned into a boundless savanna. 4 million years ago new creatures paced in the savanna called Gracile Australopiths. They were well-adjusted to their new home and their way of walking was not so different from us. They gathered and ate everything and were able to walk miles on end. They formed cohesive groups which allowed them to repel any danger. Moreover, they were curious about new things they experienced. Their skull was still apelike with an obstructive muzzle and receding forehead. At first glance on them, it is hard to detect our features but the head was held on the upright neck, the canine teeth got smaller and the brain bigger.
- Australopithecus Afarensis & Homo Habilis
3 million years ago Australopithecus Afarensis of East Africa evolved into the first humans. 2.5 million years ago, our ancestors crossed the rubicon of brain size – 700 gms. Homo Habilis (‘handyman’) was the first representative of our genus. He got his name for a reason because it was him who was the first to make stone tools. These primitive choppers made from pebble with a few blows were still real tools for carving meat, whittling wood, defending from predators, and killing prey. Therefore, the man was armed.
Life in the trees was left for good and the savanna promoted forward movement. Perhaps, our love for travel and exploration dates back to those times. The world was perilous, but intelligence made it possible to overcome difficulties. It was not power or aggression but intelligence that protected the first humans. The skull of Homo Habilis is very much like that of Australopithecus. Now the brain size was 600-800 gms, one and a half times as much as its predecessor’s and the face too became smaller.
- Homo Ergastor
Around 1.5 million years ago, a new species appeared called Homo Ergastor (‘working man’). They became the terror of the African savanna as spears and stone tools were an unprecedented phenomenon. Even the fiercest animals weren’t safe from harm now and man became a hunter. Skeletons of Antelopes and even Elephants surrounded by stone tools have been found in East Africa. Cut marks on animal bones are visible evidence of a new stage of our evolution.
Possibly, this is around the same time humans first discovered fire but the evidence of that is rare and unreliable. Quite a few fossils of the first humans have remained in East Africa. The apelike legacy in the skull was now in the past but their jaws were still large and their brains twice as small as ours. Although, their height and build were exactly like that of ‘modern humans’. Their bodies, except for their heads, were hardly any different from ours. Soon, they settled all over Africa and were the first to move beyond and so the last step was to colonize the whole planet. So, they took that step and the vast expanses of the planet were conquered by new masters. Not in the right way though, as the planet didn’t give the man a hearty welcome. We know that nature should not be underestimated and at all times, life was no bed of roses. Human remains with marks of predator’s teeth bear witness to that. Yet, it was the hardship that endangered and fostered reason.
- Homo Heidelbergensis
Homo Heidelbergensis was the first pre-historic human whose brain size is equal to what we have now. Although their faces were still savage, their eyes shone with the renewed light of reason. These species took to civilized form of living. They built shelters, buried their dead, and created the first objects of art, crude as they were.
Man has gone through a long and difficult path of evolution. What does the future have in store? This journey from an ape to a civilized man teaches us so many things in the middle. It instigates how life is hard and not easy. But still, we as the modern intelligent human species have not gone through the risky and life-changing paths like our ancestors. They were bound to evolve and achieve reason while taking the hardships and turns. As because of this we have luxury, technology, advancement, constructive cities, and the obligation of law and rule that further tells us that there is a long certain way of modernization, we shall be deprived to. Now, it all depends on us.
By ~ Shameen Kharat