“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.