Human evolution has taken far more than five stages, of course, but these figures represent major milestones in development. A. afarensis is modeled after Lucy, an ape-like ancestor from Africa with the earliest evidence of bipedalism. Skipping ahead perhaps a million years to H. habilis, evidence of tool manufacture is present, and features are more human than ape. H. erectus means upright human, and at this stage, tool manufacture and use of fire were quite developed. H. Neanderthalis is similar to modern humans, both in structure as well as in thinking and communication ability. Finally, H. sapiens sapiens represents the last 40,000 years of development, a time in which humans created art and exercised control over their environment.
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Ever heard of Lucy? Then you are already familiar with Australopithecus afararensis, which literally means "southern ape of the Afar region." Au. afarensis lived in eastern Africa between 3.8 and 2.9 million years ago. It had both ape and human characteristics, including a body designed to walk upright.
Picking up a few hundred thousand years after Au. afarensis left off, Homo habilis lived in Africa and western Asia between 2.4 and 2.4 million years ago. The name means "skillful man" referring to its ability to use tools, a key step in human development. It had a larger brain than earlier species, but still had long, apelike arms and a protruding lower jaw.
Between 1.9 million years ago and 143,000 years ago, Homo erectus expanded throughout Africa and Asia. Homo erectus means "upright man," referring to the species life lived on the ground rather than in trees. Along with known use of tools, H. erectus had body proportions much more like humans than apes, and some scientists believe the species may have cared for its old and sick.
Home neaderthalenis is more commonly known as Neanderthal, and it lived throughout Asia and Europe between 200,000 and 28,000 years ago. It is the first species recognized as human, having the same brain size as humans today, along with the ability to control fire and use tools. The name refers to the Neander Valley in Germany where some of the first fossils were discovered.
Homo sapiens sapiens
Here's looking at you! Homo sapiens means "wise man" and is the name for the species that every human on earth belongs to. H. sapiens is thought to have evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Distinguishing features include a lighter build than earlier species, along with the large brain we enjoy today.