Although scientists are still unsure exactly when and where humans first came into existence, the earliest human ancestor remains were discovered in the country now known as Kenya and are dated to be nearly 3 million years old. Every time another ancient prehistoric artifact is uncovered, it brings new information and insight. Because of this, we will likely never know for sure the precise origins of the human race.
For some of us, the idea of our own species’ origin remaining a mystery is frustrating or confusing; for many scientists, this is what makes anthropology and paleontology so interesting. Scientists and anthropologists who work on these types of excavations are constantly motivated by the quest to solve the mystery and uncover the next fossil that will unlock another aspect of ancient humanity and fill in some gaps of our origin story.
Because it wasn’t until about 5,000 years ago that humans began to maintain records, other than verbally communicated memories and information, we rely heavily on the information discovered from fossils and ancient relics. Anthropologists use that information to continuously piece together an idea of how and where ancient humans lived, what they ate, and where they traveled.
Modern-day humans are a part of the Hominini family of primates, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as: “any of a taxonomic tribe (Hominini) of hominids that includes recent humans together with extinct ancestral related forms.” Due to the availability of genetic testing from ancient samples, we know there were several species of archaic humans, such as Neanderthals and different types of hominids. It is also now known that many of these species were close enough to mate and produce offspring and continue human evolution in that way. Our species, the Homo sapiens, directly evolved from the Homo erectus, which coupled with other species such as Neanderthals. The outcome of all this means that we modern-day humans have genes from many now-extinct human species.
Each of these human ancestors had distinct features, abilities, and lifestyles; they each played a part in forming our modern species of humans, the Homo sapiens. The earliest remains and evidence of the existence of Homo sapiens specifically, were also found in the eastern region of Africa near Kenya and Ethiopia and dated from around 315,000 years ago. Of all the types of hominids that existed over millions of years, modern humans or Homo sapiens are the only ones that remain. Our closest living relatives who still exist are primates such as gorillas and orangutans.
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