This timeline recaps the events from our early human ancestors through to the beginning of agriculture at the start of 9000 BCE.
Early Human Ancestors
7-6 MYA (Million Years Ago)
Apes evolve the ability to walk upright on two legs. This allows their hands to be free for carrying or throwing items. This bipedal apes were called Sahelanthropus tchadensis.
Several species of bipedal ape begin to migrate and spread across the grasslands of East Africa. The most famous discovered, a female scientists have called Lucy, had her 3.2 million year old bones discovered in Ethiopia back in 1974.
A breakthrough for our ape ancestors sees the first use of stone tools by Australopithecines around this time, which spreads in use across East and Southern Africa. This paves way for simple chopping tools.
Homo Erectus translates to “upright man” and it’s here where the first hominin with the body size equivalent to a modern human, evolves in Africa. Like an ape, this very early ancestor has a low, flat forehead and a projecting jaw with big teeth. There are exhibits across the world with preserved skeletal remains, including the Natural History Museum in London.
Homo Erectus moves out of Africa and starts a new odyssey into Asia. In doing so, our early human ancestors invent a new kind of stone tool, although this is recorded as closer to 1.4 million years ago. This is an early version of an ax, using a leaf-shaped cutting blade.
Homo Erectus is on a roll. After the axe, it doesn’t take long for our early ancestors to create fire, with some of the earliest known traces of controlled fire found at the Daughters of Jacob Bridge in Israel. Homo erectus used fire to cook meat and also defend themselves from wild animals. Charred animal bones found in a cave in South Africa date back to 1 million years ago. It’s believed that Homo Erectus banged flint stones together to create sparks, or rubbed two sticks together to generate enough heat to start a blaze.
700,000 YA (Years Ago)
Homo heidelbergensis appears in Africa, later moving to West Asia and then Europe. This is the first hominin species to build shelters and use spears to hunt animals, having evolved from the early axes to more deadly and practical weapons.
Our closest hominin relatives appear around this time in both Asia and Europe. They are the first hominin to bury their dead, and they do so in caves with offerings.
Homo Sapiens Sapiens
Homo Sapiens Sapiens (Modern humans) appear in Africa around 160,000 to 100,000 years ago. Modern humans and Neanderthals have similarly large brains, which allows them to work out a way to skin animals and use their fur and skin to make clothes. Subsequently, this then allows them to move to cooler regions.
Homo floresiensis is a tiny hominin at just 1 metre (3 ft. 6 inches). They live on the island of Flores in Indonesia but were thought to have died out around 50,000 years ago.
Modern humans called Cro-Magnons move into Europe where they live alongside Neanderthals. These are the first humans known to sew, using bone needles. They also make jewellery from shells and bones. Interestingly, the oldest known cave painting is dated to around this period of time too, although it could well be older, found in a cave in Indonesia.
The Last Neanderthals
The Last Neanderthals
Neanderthals die out, potentially due to the climate changes at the time thanks to rapid “cold snaps”. As a result, Homo Sapiens Sapiens are the last humans remaining.
The Climate Warms
The Climate Warms
Sea levels rise as the climate warms. Big game animals like mammoths die out so humans adapt by eating new plant foods and catching more fish. Whilst bow and arrows have been around for a while with Homo Sapiens Sapiens, it’s around this time that it’s used in a modern and developed sense, allowing humans to catch smaller, more nimble game like deer.
The first farmers crop up at the end of the last Ice Age, originating in the Karacadag mountain region, what is today known as Turkey. Around 9000 BCE, farmers are growing wheat and barley.
Published Nov 19 2022 @ 11:49 pm – Updated – [last-modified]
Harvard Reference for Early Human Ancestors Timeline:
Greg Wheeler. (2022). Early Human Ancestors Timeline. https://www.thetimelinegeek.com/humanancestors-timeline Last accessed [date]