Chapter 7, the ten-million year timescale, is probably one of the least familiar to the collective consciousness. It is underrepresented in school curricula and popular culture. Maybe this is because its icons, fossil apes, are less charismatic than dinosaurs or cavemen. Moreover, fossil apes are more recent discoveries.
Oh yes … and then there is our “scandalous” family tree secret. It was in this timescale that humans and chimps diverged from a common ancestor. Some people are shocked to learn that we descend from apes. Wait, it gets even better. We are apes! What does this mean? Is apeness a matter of pride or shame? 1 Does it signify anything that our closest living cousin is the chimpanzee? This is a contentious issue for many religious parents, and grade-school teachers tend to gloss over this phase of natural history due to the sensitivity of the topic as well. 1
As shown on the timeline below, Chapter 7 coincides mostly with what geologists call the Neogene Period (23 to 3 MYA). Section II opens the chapter with a description of the Neogene environment. The geography of the last 30 million years took the Earth’s climate in a whole new direction.
Section III outlines the evolution of the fossil apes, from monkey-like dental apes to human-like hominins. Section IV further defines the hominin in terms of the fossil record. Fossils tell us directly about the evolution of our body’s hard parts. There is more to a skeleton than meets the eye. Bones and teeth provide ample clues about diet, habitat, motion, and even behavior.
We can learn even more by observing our most closely related species, the chimps, gorillas, and orangutans. They still carry soft anatomy – like muscles, organs, and genes – to compare to our own. Ape behavior and social structure can also give us insight into the long-term evolution of human nature. This comparative analysis is the subject of Section V.
- Briana Pobiner, “Accepting, understanding, teaching, and learning (human) evolution: Obstacles and opportunities”, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 159(S61):232-274 (1/25/2016), https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ajpa.22910#ajpa22910-bib-0293 (accessed, saved, and archived 10/19/19). ↩
- Ape silhouette: Karen Arnold, “Monkey Silhouette Clipart”, https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=74689&picture=monkey-silhouette-clipart. Footprints: “Foot prints silhouette”, https://publicdomainvectors.org/en/free-clipart/Foot-prints-silhouette/59240.html. Smile: nicubunu, “Mouth with teeth”, http://www.publicdomainfiles.com/show_file.php?id=13936188013656. Globe: “America world globe vector clip art”, https://freesvg.org/america-world-globe-vector-clip-art. All public domain. All accessed, saved, and archived 8/29/20. ↩
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