We have briefly looked at some of the developments which have occurred in man’s evolution from the ape-like creatures of prehistory to the learned, technological Homo sapiens of today. But perhaps it is worth looking in more detail at some of the animals which have been proved by the investigators to be related in some way to ourselves.
The first creatures which have been identified as man’s forebears were certainly not human. About four million years ago, ape-men known as Australopithecines’-southern ape-men-inhabited parts of south and east Africa, as their remains indicate.
Some of these ape-men lived in the open plan is and were small, nimble creatures, well adapted to their life in these conditions. The other group lived in the forested regions, and consequently were much larger, stronger animals.
It has been suggested that these southern ape-men were among the first primates to use tools made of bones and teeth. It may be, however, that the remains of animal bones and teeth which have been found associated with the Australopithecines were just the leftovers from meals.
But whether or not they used tools, the teeth of the plains’ ape-men certainly suggest that they might have eaten meat and, of course, weapons would have been particularly useful in hunting and killing their victims. It is likely that their relatives living in the forests had an ore vegetarian diet.
About one-and-three-quarter million years ago a primate existed, also in east Africa, which has been proved to belong to the genus Homo, that is, it was humanlike. There may yet be finds to come that will indicate an even older date for the origins of a true man, but as yet this is the first creature that has been proved to have made tools and weapons in definite shapes and sizes.
The evidence provided by finds of bones from feet of these early men show that they probably walked on two feet like we do, rather than on four feet like an animal such as a dog. Homo habilis, as it is called, was probably the first primate to have been able to stand upright.
From this point onwards man seems to have made very rapid progress, and there is fossil evidence of a number of primitive men, but perhaps the most famous of all is the man whose bones have been found in Eastern Europe particularly, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis – Neanderthal-man.
This cave-dwelling creature is closely related to modern people, who are classed as Homo sapiens sapiens, but it is not our ancestor. The earliest known example of modern people is called Cro-Magnon man which emerged around 50,000 years ago. Their origins are still shrouded in mystery.