Throughout human history, we have accumulated a number of traits that make us unique. Some of these features are easy to identify, such as our language and ability to think critically, while others are harder to quantify. Over the last few decades, scientists have developed models, experimental paradigms and tests that are shedding light on these differences.
A major branch of science, evolution is the study of how organisms develop from earlier forms of life. Evolution is not a linear process, but rather a dynamic one that takes place over time in response to the environment. Species that are most successful at adapting to their environment, tend to have similar characteristics and habits.
Hominids, including humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, belong to the clade of great apes (Hominidae). All living members of this clade are related to each other in genetics and anatomy.
Our ancestors are thought to have originated in the ancient land of Africa, where they occupied an area known as the Cradle of Humankind. Scientists have discovered a variety of fossils from this time, including skulls and bones, that show traces of early hominids.
Humans evolved from their ape ancestors over many millions of years. As scientists have studied the fossil record, they have learned that there were many important milestones along the way.
The earliest human ancestors walked on two legs and climbed trees, which helped them to travel long distances and survive in changing climates. They also had a large brain that enabled them to think in an abstract way and to communicate with others.
As we grew, we began to create tools and symbols that were useful for our survival. These innovations helped to give us a distinct advantage over our ape ancestors.
These tools and symbols also gave us the ability to share information with others, something that our ape ancestors could not do. This ability to communicate and share information made us much more capable of forming communities and surviving in the wild.
Symbols and Tools
We are the only species of mammals that have developed the ability to learn symbols and use them to represent physical objects. This ability is very complex, as we are able to build symbolic maps of objects. We also are able to change the meaning of symbols, as well as use them to communicate new ideas or even control our behavior.
The human brain is particularly sensitive to this information, which makes it a powerful tool for learning. We are also able to use it to remember and recall what we have learned in the past.
Symbols are powerful tools that enable us to remember information, but they are not always necessary. Some animals, such as birds, can still use their senses to recognize physical objects without the need for a symbolic map of them.