Most of our beliefs are based on the fact that humans were created in a single moment. Whether that is being created from clay or Eve and Adam coming to the world. From the viewpoint of evolution, there was no such moment of creation but rather an evolution from previous generations and species. We also tend to think that we are somewhat superior to other forms of life on our planet. Why so? In order to answer this question, it is essential to dig deep into history and understand what it means to be human. It is no secret that thousands of years ago, we were not the only species of humans. In fact, there were more than 20 human species that existed before us. Why are we the only ones left and why do we see ourselves superior to others?
Humans are technically animals. But we are different from others in many ways. One of the things that distinguishes us from other animals is our complex languages. These languages help us communicate our feelings, ideas and problems. Other animals also communicate among themselves. For example, green monkeys make sounds to inform others in the group about a predator. Whales and sharks also have such abilities. So how is our language different? Our language helps us not only inform each other about danger or food resources but it also gives us the ability to talk about others and ourselves. As Yuval Noah Harari states in his book titled ‘Sapiens, A Brief Story of Humankind’, what makes our language special is that it gives us the ability to gossip. Yes, to gossip. Research shows that neither Neanderthals nor other Homonins, hominin is the general name that indicates the gorup of humans and human like apes, were not able to gossip like we do. Okay but why does gossiping make us superior? Being able to gossip means that we have the ability to talk about so many different topics (we can talk about other people, their behaviors) doing this makes us work better and have deeper connections.
Apart from gossipers, one of the most important differences between our language and that of animals is that we have the ability to talk about imaginary things. We can talk about non-existent beings, worlds and can believe them. The important point here is that this ability to imagine and create can help us work in big groups. Think of it this way; wolves also work together, right? Yes. But they only work with their families or at least others they know. They cannot just go up to a random member of a pack and work together. Well, we can. We can make stories and myths up and form a group that believes in them and work with them. We can make other people believe in them and have them work with us. An important characteristic of being human is to work with any human to do basically anything. And it is all thanks to this ability to imagine.
As we know, we were not the only species of humans on the planet. But now, we are. This makes us think that there is a huge line between us and other animals because of our differences. But what if other human kinds had not gone extinct? Well, in this case, this line between us and animals would not be so clear. Let’s take a look at other human kinds that existed before us and how we are the only ones left.
Ardipithecus was the earliest known hominin. It had a brain that was slightly smaller than a chimpanzee’s and according to research, they did not use tools. Then came Australopithecus. It had a slightly larger brain and started to make tools to hunt animals. After Australopithecus Homo Habilis appeared and it was the first species that exceeded the brain size of apes. The tools they made also became more advanced. After Homo Habilis, humans started to evolve much faster. Around two million years ago, Homo Erectus appeared. Their brains were up to two-thirds of ours. Homo Erectus evolved into larger brained human kinds like Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo Rhodesiensis, Archaic homo sapiens and spread through Africa and Eurasia. Humans started to be able to use fire and started making jewelry and art. Neanderthals were similar to us in many ways. They also buried their dead and wore jewelry.
A photo comparison of Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals
Apart from archeological findings, how can we be so sure that we evolved from these kinds and how they are our ancestors? Well, because there is evidence in our DNA. The DNA of Neanderthals, Denisovans and other hominins is found in our DNA. This means that we had children with them. For their DNA to still be in us, we must have also lived together for some time to raise our children successfully. If so, how did they go extinct and how are we the only ones left? Although how we replaced other human kinds is still unclear, some theories say that it was our social skills that gave us an advantage. Since their extinction took hundreds of thousands of years, it must have been a small advantage and luck we had that made us the only human kind living on earth today.
Defining humanity is not as easy as explaining the evolution of it. Certain social skills that were explained in the first paragraph like gossiping and talking about imaginary beings definitely gave us an advantage over other human kinds and animals. But this does not necessarily mean that we are the endpoint of human evolution. Who knows? Maybe a couple of thousands of years later a different kind of hominin species might appear and might be wondering about us and our lifestyles.
What if other human species hadn't died out
Accessed 16 July, 2022
How many early human species existed on Earth?
Accessed 16 July, 2022
When We Met Other Human Species
Accessed 17 July, 2022
Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens, A Brief History Of Humankind. Dvir Publishing House Ltd. (Israel) Random House Harper, 2011.