How were people born

Science in dialogue

How did the first man come about?

According to scientists, the cradle of mankind is in East Africa. Millions of years ago a huge trench was created there, in the middle of which there is a basin, the Afar sink. For example, sediments containing the fossil remains of numerous plants, animals and humans have accumulated along the Awash River in Ethiopia over the past six million years.

More than half of all early human species known today come from the Afar Basin. Among other things, the 3.2 million year old partial skeleton of Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) and the much older one of Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus) were found there. The latter lived about 4.4 million years ago, was the size of a chimpanzee and, in addition to the equipment for skilful climbing, was already able to walk upright. As a result, locomotion on two legs did not develop as a reaction to the increasing desertification of the landscape, as originally assumed, but rather developed in the tropical rainforest beforehand.

Over a period of several million years, new human forms developed again and again, which eventually spread across Africa, Europe and Asia. It is believed that they followed the herds of their prey. For example, the Neanderthals lived in Europe and the Middle East. Compared to us today, they were smaller, but also much stronger. They were well adapted to life in an Ice Age environment.

It is now considered certain that modern man (Homo sapiens), like his early human ancestors, developed in Africa and from there settled the rest of the world. Researchers are currently working hard on what happened when these modern humans encountered other species of people, such as B. the Neanderthals in Europe or the Homo erectus in Asia. In the beginning there may well have been a mixture of different types of people in such contacts, but over the course of many thousands of years only Homo sapiens remained in the end.

Incidentally, everything that scientists know about human development they know from fossils they found during excavations and from the genetic information in the cells of people living today.

Dr. Philipp Gunz, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

(Editor WiD: mba)