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backBACK TO CHART     “EARLY MAN,” LIFE Nature Library (TIME/LIFE BOOKS), pages 41-46:

What were the stages of man's long march from apelike ancestors to sapiens? Beginning at right and progressing across four more pages are milestones of primate and human evolution as scientists know them today, pieced together from the fragmentary fossil evidence. It is a revealing story, not only for the creatures it shows, but also because it graphically illustrates how much can be learned from how little: the seemingly chaotic collection of bones at left, for example, can give a quite complete picture of how Australopithecus might have walked-a bipedal creature at the very dawn of man.

Many of the figures shown here have been built up from far fewer fragments-a jaw, some teeth perhaps, as indicated by the white highlights-and thus are products of educated guessing. But even if later finds should dictate changes, these reconstructions serve a purpose in showing how these creatures might have looked. When they lived can be seen from the geological time scale across the top-blue for the proto-apes, red and purple for the hominids and the first men, green for Homo sapiens. Breaks in the ribbons signify extinction of a line or gaps in the fossil record. Although proto-apes and apes were quadrupedal, all are shown here standing for purposes of comparison. A spine, ribs and hip bones of Australopithecus reveal not only his approximate height and weight but, most important of all, his upright posture and bipedal gait.

PLIOPITHECUS: One of the earliest proto-apes, Pliopithecus had the look of a modern gibbon although its arms were not as disproportionately long and specialized for swinging through the trees. On the basis of its teeth and skull it is now classed as an ancestor of the gibbon line. (EM) PROCONSUL: Know from numerous fragments adding up to almost complete skeletons, Proconsul is considered to be a very early ape, the ancestor of the chimpanzee and perhaps of the gorilla. A contemporary of Pliopithecus, it is often found with it in the same fossil site.(EM)

DRYOPITHECUS: Though its skeleton is tantalizing incomplete, Dryopithecus can be fairly described from a few jaws and teeth. First of the fossil great apes to be discovered, it was widely distributed; remains have been unearthed throughout Europe, in North India and China.

OREOPITHECUS:  A likely side branch on man’s family tree, Oreopithecus is believed to have stood around four feet tall and weighed about 80 lbs. Its teeth and pelvis led scientists to wonder if it could be ancestral to man, but apparently it became extinct some 8 million years ago.

RAMAPITHECUS: The earliest manlike primate found so far, Ramapithecus is now though by some experts to be the oldest of man’s ancestors in a direct line. This hominid status is predicated upon a few teeth, some fragments of jaw and a palate unmistakably human in shape.

AUSTRALAPITHECUS: Ramapithecus and this early form of Australopithecus, the first certain hominid, are separated by a gap of nine million years. I this time, the prehumans made great advances—they walked upright, lived on the ground and many have used stones in their defense. 

PARANTHROPUS: Though he stood erect and had hominid features, Paranthropus represents an evolutionary dead end in man’s ancestry. A vegetarian, to judge from his big jaws and grinding teeth,  he competed with advanced australopithecines, which may have hastened his extinction.

ADVANCED AUSTRALAPITHECUS: Distinguished from the early Australopithecines by his increased cranial capacity, advanced Australopithecines was a contemporary of Paranthropus. Primitive tools have been found with both, but whether one or the other or both produced them remains unsettled.

HOMO ERECTUS: The first man of our own genus, Homo erectus is modern of limb but more primitive of hand and brain, with a cranial capacity extending only into the lower range of Homo sapiens. The sites he frequented show that he led a communal life and knew the use of fire.

EARLY HOMO SAPIENS: Three European fossil men—Swanscombe, Steinheim and Montmaurin—are probably the earliest examples of man’s modern species. Their dentition is primitive, but the back of the skull and the face are more modern. The brain capacity is within modern range.

SOLO MAN: An extinct race of Homo sapiens in Java, Solo man is recognized so far only from two shin bones and some fragments of skull. These indicate that his limbs were modern in appearance; his skull, however, was massive and thick, with heavy brows and sloping forehead.

RHODESIAN MAN: Another extinct race of Homo sapiens that dwelled in Africa, these men were more modern than Homo erectus but more primitive than the first Bushmanlike peoples. Fossil remains have been found with cutting and scraping tools of stone as well as some of bone.

NEANDERTHAL MAN: Not nearly as brutish a fellow as his name has come to connote, Neanderthal man, whose peoples rimmed the Mediterranean and dotted Europe, had a cranial capacity in some cases larger than that of modern man. He made a variety of tools advanced in design.

CRO-MAGNON MAN: Only a cultural step away from modern man, Cro-Magnon man has left the world his living art—cave paintings, stone engravings and carved figures. He replaced the Neanderthals in Europe and, diversifying in many populations, seems to have colonized the world.

MODERN MAN: Physically, modern man differs little from Cro-Magnon man. What sets the two apart is culture; by learning how to grow his own food and domesticate animals, man could afford to give up his nomadic life and found permanent settlements—and civilizations.