The evolution of man is an area of study that will never fully be understood, however, evidence has
been accumulated to allow us to paste together a picture of what happened in the beginning of time. It
allows us to gather an idea of how man progressed to exist in the state in which we see him now. We can
see that the evolution of man was directly influenced by his environment. Man’s intellectual development
directly effected the physical changes that we see. It is apparent through observation that the
environmental changes also induced some of the physical changes that man underwent. These
environmental changes and seemingly intellectual development slowly refined man’s behavior, as well as
his way of life. We also can see how man develops along with the changes in sophistication of the tools he
used. We can observe that the progression of the tools coincide directly with the progression of the
evolution of man. As the technology, as simple as it was, slowly became more advanced, we see how the
apparent effect that it has on early man’s development and how those advances made, effected the actions
and behavior of man. It is essentially those changes in behavior and lifestyle which lead to man’s
evolution. In this paper, I will include some of my observations of the physical development of man from
ancient human-like animals to modern day man.
At the American Museum of Natural History I observed the exhibit of Lucy. Lucy was found in
Hadar Ethiopia and is the name given to a fossil skeleton of a hominid who lived over 3.2 million years
ago. Lucy stands as the most complete skeleton known of an early human predecessor. She is known to be
part of the bipedal primate know as Australopithecus afarensis. Lucy was expected to be twenty-five years
old and roughly four feet tall. What we know about Australopithecus afarensis is that they walked upright
and were able to climb trees. Australopithecus afarensis, like Lucy, had small skulls, small brain cases,
projecting faces, large chewing teeth and looked ape-like. Looking at Lucy, my tour guide pointed out her
primitive limb proportions. Although she did walk upright on two legs, her legs were very short, adopted to
climbing, indicating that she may have taken shelter in the trees at night. We can also observe that Lucy
had very long hands. The proportion of her hands in comparison to her short legs would implicate that she
walked in a different fashion than the way we do today. She would have had to swing her arms around,
making her motions similar to those of an ape.
Five million years after Lucy, Australopithecus africanus appears. This creature also walked
upright but lived in relatively open country and obtained food mainly by gathering and scavenging.
Australopithecus africanus’ face did not project as far as his ancestors, had smaller incisor teeth and a
slightly larger brain compared to body size. I enjoyed the exhibit of Australopithecus africanus because it
showed what he would have looked like with flesh. It looked like a hairy, short cross between man and ape.
In the same exhibit as Lucy was “Turkana boy”. He was found in 1984 at Nariokotome, Kenya.
Turkana boy existed about 1.6 million years ago and looks more like modern man. The Turkana boy was
five feet three inches and weighed one hundred and six pounds. Although we would view his skeletal height
as that being one of an adult, his bones were those of an adolescent. It was believed that if he had lived to
maturity, he would have grown to about six feet one inch and would have weighed approximately one
hundred and fifty pounds. The proportions of his body maximized the surface area to best shed body heat in
a hot dry open environment. He was more advanced than Lucy and had increased brain cell capacity and
had rock tools which was evidence of hand crafted tool kits which were primitive but sophisticated.
Turkana boy came about one million years after Lucy and it is interesting to see the difference in their
skeletal structure. He is tall and his neck is very close to the body, his skeleton reveals a more complex
being , whereas Lucy had a little frame and looks more animal-like.
The next exhibit showed the skulls and tools of Paranthropus robustus (“near man”). This early
man lived in wooded to open environments, had a vegetarian diet, simple vocal communication, and had a
massive jaw and teeth build. Moving these massive jaws also required huge muscles supported by strong
bony crests atop the skull. These characteristics were directly related to their diet and means of food.
Living in a dry open country, these human relatives relied on the tough abrasive plan foods offered by the
As the environment changes from one that is wooded and forested, to one that is more open, similar
to country environment, it lays down the basis for all human evolution. With the open environment, these
creatures no longer climbed trees, but began walking, much in the fashion that we do today, over vast areas
of land. They moved from one placee to the other in search of whatever they could dig up from the
ground. However, it was supplemented by scavenged meat from carcasses, as well as small animals.
We can notice that the physical appearance of these early human relatives is somewhat distinct
from our own appearance. Their bodies were significantly darker and almost fully covered with hair.
These characteristics are ones which were a simple result of the environment of the time. These human
ancestors had no means by which they could cloth themselves, therefore, they appear to have dark skin
because of the extreme exposure to the sun that they faced. The fact that they spent all of their lives
exposed to the sun and other environmental factors also serves as the reasoning for their heavy body hair.
Their body hair served the same purpose as our clothes do for us. It was a way of insulating their bodies
The next exhibit was on Homo habilis, which was the earliest member of human lineage to have
made stone tools. Fossils found date Homo habilis to have lived about 2 to 1.5 million years ago. They are
included in our genus Homo because of the evidence found that links them to stone making. Their tools
were small and quite crude but with a few blows from a hammer-stone, the toolmaker would knock sharp
flakes from a cobble. The flakes were then used for cutting and scraping and the shaped core may have
been used for chopping. The stone making allowed for a more varied diet. While they killed the animals by
throwing rocks at them, they could now carve them with the sharp flakes of stone. The body proportions of
Homo habilis was for the most part similar to that of Australopithecus. However, we see an enlargement
of the brain case but the head and teeth become smaller. They no longer relied on the tough vegetarian diet
so the muscles in the head did not need to be as strong as before. Homo ergaster appears between 2 to 1
million years ago and used stone tools much like those of Homo habilis.
Next appears Homo erectus, who dated about 2 million years ago and thought to be the earliest
forms which we might recognize as actual human life. Their Brain was smaller than ours, however, larger
than the early human fossils. Erectus had a human like skull, and the brain was one thousand milliliters in
volume which was not far from the average, which is fourteen hundred milliliters. The brain of Homo
erectus was housed in a long , low braincase, sharply angled at the back and the eyes were overhung by
bony ridges. Although their chewing teeth and jaw structure were large in respect to our own, compared to
Homo habilis, these features were small. Some of the members are as tall as us and they were advanced
enough to use fire. They were followed by a group of intermediate humans and some of their fossils date
back to half a million years ago. The fossils found at site of Terra Amata were accompanied by stone tools
used for hammering and light duty anvils that were sharper but still crude. Traces of hut structure were
found with sampling frames, and inside were hearths and debris from stone working and ocher used for
Lastly, we have the Neanderthals in Europe and Western Asia that lived one hundred and fifty
thousand years ago. The Neanderthal brain was of modern size but it was housed in a long, low braincase
with a projecting bun at the back. A well defined bony ridge overhung each eye. The large projecting face
had sharply receding cheekbones and prominent nasal bones. They typical Neanderthals features were
adopted to a bitterly cold climate. They built shelter and cooking hearths. They also made clothing from
hides of animal skins. Stone tools were used to scrape hide, and the hide was held in their front teeth.
Because the teeth were used in such a manner, we see that they are heavily worn. The stone tools were
used in scraping and sharpening spears, as well as butchering meant and carrying out other domestic tasks.
The Neanderthals were our size and the hair on their bodies had decreased a great deal form their earlier
human relatives. The reason for this is that they now had the ability to use animal skins to keep them
warm. Also, with the skins covering their bodies, their skin became lighter because of less exposure to the
The progression and evolution of man seems quite evident. We have seen that it is most heavily
influenced by both environmental and technological factors. The environmental factors and changes
pushed the early human relatives towards a different way of living by changing their things like their diet.
However, the technological factors are essentially what allowed the early humans to develop further and
give him the ability to make clothes and shelter, as well as move past his vegetarian diet. All of these were
factors which induced a change in mans physical appearance and increased his cognitive ability. They are
all changes which were mandatory for man to have become what he is now. The fascinating fossils and
skeletons that we have now are able to tell us so much of mans evolutionary history but leaves many
questions unanswered. I found the exhibits at the museum not only interesting, but allowed me to have a
more concrete idea of what early man looked like and the way in which he lived.