Planet of the Apemen
Against all the Odds, Homo Sapiens Survived the Battle for Earth

Planet of the Apemen
Against all the Odds, Homo Sapiens Survived the Battle for Earth

The evolutionary history of primates can be traced back 65 million years. Primates are one of the oldest of all surviving placental mammal groups.

The oldest known primate-like mammal species come from North America, but inhabited Eurasia and Africa on a wide scale during the tropical conditions of the Paleocene and Eocene.

Molecular evidence suggests that the last common ancestor between humans and the remaining great apes diverged 4–8 million years ago.

In the not-too-distant past, humans shared this planet with other species of hominid. This series tells how, against all the odds, Homo sapiens survived.

This episode is set 75,000 years ago in India, following a catastrophic super-volcanic eruption which forced a showdown between our ancestors and a completely different species of human, Homo erectus, who up until that point had reigned supreme.

Humans are part of the animal kingdom. They are mammals, which means that they give birth to their young ones, rather than laying eggs like reptiles or birds, and the female humans are able to feed their babies with breast milk. Humans belong to the order of primates. Apes like gorillas and gibbons are also primates.

The closest living relatives of humans are the two chimpanzee species: the Common Chimpanzee and the Bonobo.

Scientists have examined the genes of humans and chimpanzees, and compared their DNA. The studies showed that 95% to 99.5% of the DNA of humans and chimpanzees is the same.

Biologists explain the similarity between humans and other apes by their descent from a common ancestor. In 2001, a hominid skull was discovered in Chad.

The skull is about 7 million years old, and has been classified as Sahelanthropus tchadensis. This skull may show that the date at which humans started to evolve from other primates is 2 million years earlier than scientists had previously thought.

Humans are part of a subfamily called homininae (or hominins), inside the hominids or great apes. Long ago, there used to be other types of hominins on Earth. They were like modern humans, but not the same. Homo sapiens are the only type of hominins who are alive today.

The earliest known fossils of genus Homo have been called Homo habilis (handy man). The first fossils of Homo habilis were found in Tanzania. Homo hablilis is thought to have lived about 2.2 to 1.7 million years ago. Another human species thought to be an ancestor of the modern human is Homo erectus.

Scientists are still discussing whether Homo erectus really descended from Homo habilis. They think it may also be possible that both came from a common species of human that they do not know about yet. There are many different extinct species of homo known today. Many of them were likely our "cousins", as they developed differently than our ancestors.

A theory called the Sahara pump theory has been used to tell how different species of plants and animals moved from Africa to the Middle East, and then elsewhere. Early humans may have moved from Africa to other parts of the world in the same way. The first truly modern humans seem to have appeared between 200,000 and 130,000 years ago.

These early humans moved out from Africa and by 10 thousand years ago they lived in most parts of Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. They replaced other groups of human like species that had migrated earlier. These were called Neanderthals or Homo erectus.

They competed for resources with the modern human, but the modern human was more successful.