Did we really evolve from Chimpanzees?

Evolution of Homo sapiens

Homo sapiens are not descendants of monkeys or any other modern-day primates that we observe in our ecosystem or biosphere. Although we do share a common ape ancestor with chimpanzees who existed 6-8  million years ago. From that ape ancestor Chimpanzees and human beings evolved differently. Apes and Monkeys also share a distant relative who lived around 25 million years ago. The evolution of homo sapiens is a very controversial and debatable topic among the general public. However, the consensus on the evolution of homo sapiens is pretty full-blown when it comes to the scientific community. Evolution is a field that is constantly changing and evolving due to new additions being made from fossil discoveries. 

Since evolution is constantly changing our understanding of how human evolution took place from ape-like ancestors and how the modern homo sapiens came to be is ever-changing as well. Major discoveries and conclusions about human evolution have been made by the Fossil record available to us and other carbon dating techniques.

Timeline of Evolution of Homo sapiens

Let’s have a close look at this table to understand a brief timeline of the evolution of Homo sapiens

Dryopithecus (ape-like) 20-25 million years ago
Ramapithecus (man-like) 14-15 million years ago
Australopithecus (man-like primate) 3-4 million years ago
Homo habilis (hominid) 2 million years ago
Homo erectus (900cc) 1.5 million years ago
Neanderthal (1400cc) 100000- 40000 years ago
Cromagnon (1650cc) 40000 years ago
Homo sapiens (1450cc) 75000- 10000 years ago

Understanding Human Ancestors 

Dryopithecus was a distant Miocene forerunner of Gorillas and Chimpanzees

Dryopithecus (ape-like)

  • Dryopithecus existed 20-25 million years ago.
  • 300~500 cc cranial capacity
  • Posture was semi-erect hence more ape-like.

    Evolution of Homo sapiens

    Image Source: en.wikipedia.org


Ramapithecus (man-like)

  • Existed 15 million years ago
  • Fossils were found in the Shivalik range, hence the name ‘ram’ used.
  • It was more man-like
  • Cranial capacity around 500~600cc

 Australopithecus afarensis (man-like primate)

  • Existed 3-4 million years ago
  • Fossils found in East Africa in Ethiopia and Tanzania
  • Australopithecus afarensis

    Image Source: humanorigins.si.edu

    It was 4 feet tall

  • It had an erect posture
  • Also called Tuang baby
  • Fossils founded by Sir Raymond dart

Homo habilis (hominid)

  • Cranial capacity – 650-800cc
  • Toolmaker/handyman– made stone weapons
  • Hominoid characters
  • Erect posture
  • Did not eat meat
  • Evolved 2 million years ago
  • Tools were used for protection, not for food

Homo erectus (900cc)

  • Java Man (1891 fossils discovered in JAVA Indonesia) and Peking Man (W.C. PEI discovered fossils)
  • Hominoid characteristic
  • Erect Posture
  • Evolved 1.5 million years ago
  • Started eating meat and hunting with stone weapons
  • Perhaps knew the use of fire

    Homo erectus

    Image Source: www.nhm.ac.uk

Neanderthal (1400cc)

  • Evolved 100000-40000 years ago
  • Fossils were discovered in Neandertal Valley Germany hence the name.
  • Adapted to cold climate
  • Used ornaments
  • Used to wear hides of animals to protect them from cold
  • Used to make paintings and were involved in other cultural activities
  • Started burying their dead
  • Started religion as well
  • East and central Asia habitat
  • 1400 cc cranial capacity
  • They showed cannibalism and ate members of its species

    Neanderthal man

    Image source: bbc.com

 Cromagnon (1650cc)

  • 1650 cc cranial capacity
  • Erect posture
  • Since it was too smart because of having high cranial capacity it played to Cro Magnons disadvantage
  • Most babies would die during childbirth because the size of the brain was very large i.e. 1650cc
  • Made cave arts as well
  • Evolutionary process made a beta version called homo sapiens/ modern man with 1450 cc cranial capacity.


    Image Source: britannica.com

Homo sapiens (1450cc)

  • Arose from Africa and moved across the world
  • Evolved 75000-10000 years ago
  • Prehistoric cave art 18000 years ago
  • Farming came 10000 years ago
  • Cranial Capacity – 1450cc
Evolution of Homo sapiens

Image Source: https://www.istockphoto.com/

Limitations of Fossil Records

Finding fossils is a very difficult task, a thousand times more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack as famous fossil finders claim. The evolutionary theory of how the evolution of modern-day homo sapiens took place is constantly changing and evolving. This is mainly because as technology becomes stronger we stop relying simply on basic fossil records and start to do more advanced techniques like carbon dating, radioactive tracing etc. 

The problem with the fossil record is that not all organisms that existed millions of years ago turned into fossils. Fossil records that are maintained are based on sediments that the fossil was found on; however, chances are that the Fossil moved from one place to another during soil formation and sedimentary changes and the actual place where the fossil must have existed is different. 

How life existed on Earth 25 million years ago is not easy to predict. Not much data is available about our very early ancestors. Due to advancements in molecular biology (DNA) and the Human genome project, we are now able to trace ancestors long back and hence this technique is helping in understanding the evolutionary process even better. As more sophisticated technologies become available our understanding will improve. A lot of fossil records data does not hold with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Sometimes they can be overwhelmingly fictionalised like how these organisms came into existence. 

Competition with other species

How did Homo sapiens tackle the natural environment around us and the competition with other species? During very early ages our ancestor’s posture became more upright because the food was available on tall trees. Then they created stone weapons to protect themselves. Then they used weapons to hunt other animals for food, they started creating fires to cook the food and because of that, the shape of the teeth changed as well. However as food became scarce, our ancestors started evolving more cranial capacity so they could become better than all other animals to compete for food. This is the reason humans have colonised almost all the world and have evolved to be the most intelligent life form on Earth. 

Closest Relative to Humans (Linking to evolution of Homo sapiens)

Now that we have understood exactly how the evolution of Homo sapiens took place in the zoological time scale, let us understand who exactly is the closest relative to humans apart from the common human ancestors that we just viewed. A lot of the general public is confused between monkeys being the closest related to humans or Gorilla, Orangutans or Chimpanzees. The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. We don’t consider the new world monkey to be the closest relative to homo sapiens.  

When we have a look at chromosome numbers 3 and 6 of Human beings and that of Chimpanzees we can see that a huge correlation can be observed between the two chromosomes. Carbon dating and fossil records also confirm that human beings had a common ape-like ancestor with Chimpanzees. Chimpanzees and Humans have 99.8% similarity in their DNA.

 This concludes that the closest relative to Homo sapiens is the Chimpanzees. 

It is true that other primates like Gorillas or Orangutans or Monkeys must be connected to Chimpanzees and humans on the evolutionary time scale and have common ancestors but the title for being the closest relative to Homo sapiens goes to Chimpanzees. So did we adequately answer the question of whether humans evolved from Chimpanzees.

Keep reading MBD to know more about such interesting topics.

Team MBD

Another interesting read- Did you sleep well last night? – My Biology Dictionary

Want to become an evolution expert?- Human evolution | Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk)


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