The origins of humanity

Eurozone: Britain was connected to Europe by land when Cheddar Man’s ancestors first arrived.

Scientists believe they have found a new type of ancient human. The discovery partly rewrites the history of our species — a story that stretches back millions of years.

  • Can you tell me more about this new discovery?

    Scientists say they have found evidence of a new species of human. The fossils were found in a cave on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.

    Members of the newly discovered species, which has been named Homo luzonensis, were much smaller than modern humans and they had curved hands and feet. This could mean they still climbed trees.

    Homo luzonensis lived around 67,000 years ago, so they crossed over with modern humans.

  • How long have humans been living in Britain?

    A: Archaeologists have found human tools dating back as far as 950,000 years. However, people have not lived in Britain constantly since then, as several generations would have been wiped out by ice ages. Plus, there was plenty of dangerous wildlife to contend with — including sabre-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths.

    One famous fossil named Cheddar Man revealed that humans living in Britain had black skin until at least 10,000 years ago. He would have lived in Britain after the most recent ice age, and people have stayed there ever since.

  • Are there skeletons that are even older than that?

    Much, much older. Although this is where the word “human” gets a little complicated. One of the most famous ancient skeletons ever found belongs to a human-like primate called Lucy. She was found in Ethiopia in 1974 and is 3.2 million years old.

    Technically, Lucy came from a different group of animals to humans. However, she had one key skill that we still rely on today: walking on two legs.

  • What came after Lucy?

    To answer this, let’s quickly whizz through some biology. While every animal is part of a species, each species is also part of a wider group called a genus. For example, lions and tigers are different species, yet are in the same genus called Panthera.

    Humans are part of the Homo genus. This group slowly evolved and eventually separated from the genus that Lucy belonged to about three million years ago.

  • Is that when humans evolved?

    Not quite. Just like tigers and lions, there have been lots of different species within the Homo genus.

    Modern humans are a species called Homo sapiens. We arrived on the scene around 300,000 years ago (although still a long time before Cheddar Man started roaming around Britain).

  • Why does this matter to humans today?

    Knowing about the past can make us realise how ridiculous modern prejudices are. Take the example of Cheddar Man. His dark skin colour suggests the idea that people from Europe are white is actually very new. The history of human beings goes far deeper that the colour of their skin.

You Decide

  1. Does knowing about ancient humans change how you feel about humans today?

Activities

  1. Watch this BBC video about the Cheddar Man and write down three facts you have learned about him.

Word Watch

Archaeologists
Someone who studies history through ancient objects.
Ice ages
Long periods of very cold temperatures on Earth. The last ice age finished around 11,700 years ago.
Primate
A group of mammals which includes monkeys, apes and humans.
Prejudices
Assumptions, for example, about people, that are made before getting to know them. For instance, racism is a kind of prejudice.

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