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6. Early Humans
Humans are unusual. We walk upright and build cities, we travel from continent to continent in hours, and we communicate across the globe in an instant. We alone can build bombs and invent medicines. Why can we do all these things that other creatures can’t? What makes us so different from other species?
All content in “6. Early Humans”

6.0—How Our Ancestors Evolved

How *did* life transform from a single-celled organism to our own species, one that can create, communicate, love, and hate? We’ll explore how bacteria, plants, and animals have transformed over time, leading to the arrival of Homo sapiens (fancy words for humans). We’ll then take a look at how this process of change led to the cultural evolution of humans and the development of our most powerful skill, collective learning.

6.1—Ways of Knowing: Early Humans

Considering we have never met a Homo habilis or an Australopithecus, how do we know about these early human species? Disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology, primatology, and history give us bits and pieces of evidence to help solve the puzzle of how humans have evolved over time. While we have learned a great deal about this topic in the last hundred years, there are still many unanswered questions and more evidence to be found!

6.2—Collective Learning

Considering we have never met a Homo habilis or an Australopithecus, how do we know about these early human species? Disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology, primatology, and history give us bits and pieces of evidence to help solve the puzzle of how humans have evolved over time. While we have learned a great deal about this topic in the last hundred years, there are still many unanswered questions and more evidence to be found!

6.3—How Did the First Humans Live?

We often teach dogs a few basic tricks, such as how to sit, stay, and fetch. However, have you ever seen dogs teach one another tricks? They might mimic each other’s behavior, but that’s really not the same thing. Humans, on the other hand, can deliberately pass information to each other and teach one another new skills. This makes it much easier for each generation to pick up where the previous one left off, and it’s why we are the only species able to dominate the biosphere. But why have humans evolved into such a powerful species? What makes us special? Here the story continues, as our ancestors evolve from early Homo sapiens to more intelligent beings who are able to learn collectively. Collective learning is the foundation on which modern society is built, and the reason our species continues to build upon what previous generations created.

Glossary

Review Big History vocabulary and take the Glossary Challenge.

Resources

Download the teacher resources from the Big History Project classroom version of this course. Text transcripts for videos are also available.