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The History of Human Evolution

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© AMNH / Rod Mickens


Sometime around six or seven million years ago, the first members of our human family, Hominidae, evolved in Africa. They spent much of their time in trees, as did their close primate relatives, the ancestors of today's chimpanzees and gorillas. But unlike other primates, these early hominids walked readily on two feet when on the ground--a trait scientists often use to define the human family.

Between the time of the first hominids and the period when our species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa more than 150,000 years ago, our planet was home to a wide range of early humans. To piece together their story, scientists rely on a wealth of evidence, including fossils, artifacts and DNA analysis. The web of clues is difficult to unravel, and experts often disagree about which species lived when and where. But it is clear that the human family has a rich evolutionary history--a past that has shaped who we are today.

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© AMNH / Denis Finnin

History of Human Evolution


A Walk Through Time

As you make your way through this gallery, you'll be walking through millions of years of human history. But just as human evolution did not follow a straight line, neither should you. The exhibits have been arranged in chronological order.

Inside the Bones

The pattern covering the walls of this hall is based on a digital image of bone tissue from the famous 3.18-million-year-old "Lucy" fossil. This picture was made using confocal scanning microscopy, a technology that allows scientists to "see" microscopic details inside fossils without cutting and damaging them. The sets of concentric circles, the largest of which are the width of a human hair, contained a blood vessel in life. Images like this help show how bone structure and function have changed in the course of human evolution.

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