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What scientific evidence do we have about the first humans?

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In a Nutshell

In recent decades, scientists have discovered more about the beginnings of humanity.  The fossil record shows a gradual transition over 5 million years ago from chimpanzee-size creatures to hominids with larger brains who walked on two legs.  Later hominids used fire and stone tools and had brains as large as modern humans.  Fossils of homo sapiens in east Africa date back nearly 200,000 years.  Humans developed hearths for fire, stone points for spears and arrows, and cave paintings by 30,000 years ago.  By 10,000 years ago, humans had spread throughout the globe.  Genetic studies support the same picture.  Humans share more DNA with chimpanzees than with any other animal, suggesting that humans and chimps share a relatively recent common ancestor.  Also, the same defective genes appear in both humans and chimps, at the same locations in the genome—an observation difficult to explain except by common ancestry. Genetics also tells us that the human population today descended from more than two people. Evolution happens not to individuals but to populations, and the amount of genetic diversity in the gene pool today suggests that the human population was never smaller than several thousand individuals.  Yet all humans, of all races, are descended from this group.  Humanity is one family.

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Further Reading

More from BioLogos

  • Collins, Francis. The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. New York: Free Press, 2006. (book info)
  • Falk, Darrel. “A Geneticist’s Journey” on his reaction to the discoveries of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA BioLogos Forum September 23, 2011 (blog with audio of a Science Magazine Podcast on the same subject)
  • Kidder, James. “The Human Fossil Record” BioLogos Forum 2011-2012 (blog series)
  • Venema, Dennis and Falk, Darrel. “Does Genetics Point to a Single Primal Couple?” BioLogos Forum, April 5, 2010 (blog)
  • Venema, Dennis. “Genesis and the Genome: Genomic Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 62, No 3, September 2010 (PDF). Reposted as a BioLogos scholarly essay (PDF)
  • Venema, Dennis. “Understanding Evolution: Neanderthals, Denisovans and Human Speciation” BioLogos Forum September 23, 2011 (blog)
  • Venema, Dennis. “Understanding Evolution: Mitochondrial Eve, Y-Chromosome Adam, and Reasons to Believe” BioLogos Forum, October 28, 2011 (blog)

Recommended External Resources

  • Hurd, James P. “Hominids in the Garden?”, chapter on hominid fossil evidence in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Keith B. Miller, ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2003. (Book info)
  • Paabo, Svante. “DNA clues to our inner Neanderthal” TED talk (video). A good introduction to Neanderthal DNA from the scientist who discovered it; see discussion of this video by Darrel Falk in “Dead Bones with a Living Message” BioLogos Forum November 29, 2011 (blog)
  • Stearley, Ralph “Assessing Evidences for the Evolution of a Human Cognitive Platform for ‘Soulish Behaviors’” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, vol 61, no 3, 2009 (PDF)
  • Voice of Light Productions “Unity of Humanity” on the bottleneck population of the first humans (video)
  • Wilcox, David “Finding Adam: The Genetics of Human Origins,” chapter in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Keith B. Miller, ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2003. (Book info)