A Timeline of Traits That Make Humans Special

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How we humans developed the unique traits that separate us from our ancient ancestors is a scientific puzzle whose solution is ongoing. From fossils to food cultivation to social structure, the story of human evolution is written from many angles. This timeline shows some of the primary distinguishing characteristics of humans and when scientists believe they appeared on the scene. (Below, watch “Planet of the Humans: The Leap to the Top,” a WSF15 program looking at evolution and the many aspects of human uniqueness.

 Related Video

2015 Festival Program: Planet of the Humans | 1:19:32 | Featuring explorer and paleoanthropologist Lee Berger, molecular biologist Paul Bingham, anthropologist Dean Falk, and psycholinguist Steven Pinker with journalist Brian Lehrer as moderator

 

Sources:

“Oldowan and Acheulean Stone Tools,” Museum of Anthropology, (accessed September 2015), “Why Are We the Last Apes Standing?” Slate (Jan. 29, 2013), (accessed September 2015), “The Brain and Our Extended Childhood,” In Search of Enlightenment blog (Nov. 19, 2008), “The Development of Agriculture,” National Geographic, “Revealing the History of Sheep Domestication Using Retrovirus Integrations,” Science (April 24, 2009), “Origin of Modern Cows Traced to Single Herd,” Wired (March 27, 2012), “Old Goats in Transition,” Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “History of the Chicken,” Penn State Extension College of Agricultural Sciences, “What We Theorize – When And Where Domestication Occurred,” International Museum of the Horse, “Man’s First Friend,” Slate (March 6, 2009), “Ask Smithsonian: Are Cats, Domesticated?” Smithsonian (April 30, 2015), “Domestication of the donkey: Timing, processes, and indicators,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (October 16, 2007), “540,000-Year-Old Shell Carvings May Be Human Ancestor’s Oldest Art,” LiveScience (December 3, 2014), “Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving,” Nature (February 12, 2015), “Mystery Lingers Over Ritual Behavior of New Human Ancestor,” National Geographic (Sep. 15, 2015), “Neanderthal Burials Confirmed as Ancient Ritual,” National Geographic (Dec. 16, 2013), “Death Rituals in the Animal Kingdom,” BBC (Sep. 19, 2012)

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6 comments
Jelson Joseph
Jelson Joseph

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Jaya Ramchandani
Jaya Ramchandani

special in whose eyes? if humans were really special they wouldn't make this silly infographic on why they are special. think about it. seriously. you are the world science festival!

JohnKwok
JohnKwok

I wouldn't list tool making as a unique human trait especially due to the pioneering work by Jane Goodall and other primatologists who have found extensive tool making by chimpanzees.

LucaIac
LucaIac

You forgot one of the most important: language. 

Jakub Rydval
Jakub Rydval

Shouldn't the "cat" and "dog" picture be swapped on the diagram because the text says dogs were domesticated earlier..?

Avya San
Avya San

Hey, i have a problem with the burying the dead thing. Hindus dont bury their dead and make up 1/8th of the Worlds population and belong to one of the oldest civilizations. Something is wrong with burying the dead being a human uniqueness trait. Or is it that burning the dead is what makes some humans more unique than others.

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  1. […] Science Festival has put together an infographic, titled ‘Milestones In Human Uniqueness‘, detailing the timeline of mankind’s […]