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Last Humans Standing—History of Our Evolution

While pondering over our origins, we tend to look at the unexplored universe and wonder—are we the only ones? Many of us overlook the facts that we are already familiar with. The history of the evolution of modern man. There exists an equally puzzling occurrence that also leads to the questioning of our existence.

Most people aware of the story of our evolution. Single-celled organisms changed into multi-celled organisms. Aquatic life evolved from these life forms which further progressed to become the basis of terrestrial life on earth.

Evolution of Man

Evolution involves a series of complex steps aimed at the survival of a particular species. This picture, while representing a seemingly distinct progression, proves to be an ambiguous description of the evolution of early man to modern man.

Humans are also known as Homo sapiens, the only surviving species of the class Homo. Our closest cousins Homo neanderthalensiswere the only other contenders in the game of evolution. We shared a common ancestor Homo heidelbergensis with the Neanderthals. Homo sapiens continued to advance in South Africa while our common ancestor migrated to Europe to evolve into the Neanderthals.

Ancestry Map of H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis

It was after this migration that the Neanderthals started to disappear. We are aware of no freak incident which eradicated the Neanderthals, unlike with the dinosaurs. There must have been one event or a series of events that led to the survival of humans. While many of us like to think it’s owed to our superior intelligence, that may not be the case. The intelligence of our ancestors have been judged by the ability to build, communicate, express and socialize. Neanderthals built tools, made cave paintings, lived in communities and even buried their dead. It is also known that there was definite interbreeding between the two Homo species evident from the two to four percent Neanderthal genome we possess.

The most perplexing part of this research is the fact that computer simulations of the same situation show that there was a fifty percent chance that either humans or Neanderthals could have survived. If that was the case, what tipped the scale in our favor?

Human skull versus Neanderthal skull

Over many years, numerous theories have been deliberated as an attempt to describe the inexplicable extinction of the Neanderthals. Some say a large volcanic eruption near Naples, Italy caused an ashen winter which led to the demise of the species. Others speculate the species who hunted at close range were not as efficient as humans who hunted from afar, using projectile tools. Another interesting theory states that the human’s domestication of dogs created an unbeatable hunting team that the Neanderthals couldn’t compete with.

Among all of the theories hypothesized, the most transparent explanation to this mystery was the sheer strength in population of the Homo sapiens. The constant trickle of modern humans into Europe was a strong enough factor to force the Neanderthals into a slow but steady disappearance. Much like an alien species invading a new territory, the Homo sapiens very simply took over the resources key for survival.

The above mentioned theory seems to be precisely expounded by Occam’s razor, a problem-solving principle credited to the philosopher William Ockham. The principle states that among a number of suppositions, the most straightforward and simple assumption is to be considered. If a cat owner came home to torn curtains and scratched furniture, it is more likely that the cat was to blame rather than someone breaking into the house and targeting only the furniture. Though Occam’s razor is applied in technical and scientific fields, it can also be referred to explain mundane occurrences on a daily basis.

As students part of a technologically oriented institution, we can apply this principle in many of the studied fields to simplify complex problems we come across regularly. Whether we are contemplating the extinction of a species or solving a paper in class, more often than not, the easiest solution to comprehend is the correct one. The disappearance of the Neanderthals may be inconceivably simple, but until we are certain of the events that set our survival into motion, the advances in science and our insatiable curiosity will help solve the mystery.

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