The origin of man

This hall offers a historical excursion into the world of our ancient ancestors, their early way of life and culture as well as the main stages of human evolution. The Darwin museum supports the scientific point of view based on true universally recognized facts.

In his work «The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex" (1871) the great English naturalist Charles Darwin hypothesized about the origin of man from an extinct ape-like ancestor. Despite the paucity of facts available in his time, he was able to show very important similarities of the anatomical, physiological, and ontogenetic characteristics of humans and some primates. Darwin’s insights provided a unique basis for further researches over the next centuries. Humans appeared by means of evolution as well as all other living creatures on our planet.

The Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus is the author of our name as species. We are Homo sapiens.

Phylogeny of primates

The showcase presents exhibits that illustrate particular features of primates including prosimians, apes, modern humans and their fossil ancestors. The ancestors of primates were insectivorous animals that lived on Earth about 60-70 million years ago. You can see some treeshrews and jumping shrews in the showcase. They belong to the Eulipotyphla order and currently considered as main ancestors of primates. 

Anthropogenesis

Hominization is the process of human evolution which lasted about 3.5 million years. It includes the progressive transformation of a brain as well as the development of bipedalism and the ability to work. The modern man, the Homo sapiens species, appeared as a result of these progressive changes and is distinguished by bipedalism, relatively large brain, articulate speech, amazing flexibility of behaviour, intelligence, sociality and the ability to develop complex technological skills. But how did this unique species evolve? When did the amazing gap in quality happen?

To answer these questions, we need to consider all the factors and their interaction which determined the development of very early human ancestors (or early hominids). Many factors were associated with their environment and specific characteristics. There is no single factor that could entirely define the process of human evolution.

The factors of hominization can be divided into two groups: external and internal.

The external factors include the Earth climate (seasonal variability, savannah environments and a reduction of sustainable rain forests), the Earth's geomagnetic field (inversion of the magnetic poles, causing a momentary sudden increase of radiation), intense volcanic activity and fractures in the East African rift (an increased release of radioactive substances). An active range of mutagenic factors most probably could radically affect the heredity of our very distant ancestors.

The internal factors consist of unique genetic heritage, a terrestrial existence in open spaces; fierce competition in the arid savannas (the pressure of natural selection is always stronger in open spaces); a group collaboration in the process of getting and sharing meals and many others. All of these factors together contributed to the survival, development and prosperity of the early hominids.

The australopithecines and Homo habilis

The australopithecines were the bipedal primates that lived in the Eastern and southern Africa 4-1 million years ago. Bone remains of the australopithecines indicate that they had a much closer similarity with humans than modern apes. Thanks to bipedalism free upper limbs could be used to hold sticks and stones.

The first representatives of the genus Homo lived in the same time and often in the same area with the australopithecines. Their morphological characteristics weren’t much different but they had a larger brain and were the first creatures to consciously make and use specific tools. That is why they were called Homo habilis ("handy man"). 

The australopithecines could use only natural objects as tools whilst Homo habilis learned how to make tools from natural objects. It was a qualitative milestone: the first creatures were closer to animals, and the second ones were already humans. The vector of natural selection gradually changed in the course of human evolution. Sharp fangs and claws became less important than a fine coordination of hands and a good form of social behavior. 

The Paleolithic (from the Greek “palaios” - ancient and “litos” - stone, i.e. the Stone Age) was the first historical period of the Stone Age since the hominids started using various stone tools around 1.6 million years ago. It was the beginning of the famous transition from spontaneous and accidental use of natural objects as ready tools among the ancestors of chimpanzees and the australopithecines to the systematic making of them as a steady social activity among early representatives of the genus Homo.

Homo erectus

Homo erectus (meaning "upright man") is the earliest representative of the genus Homo. These people had a larger brain and a more advanced technique of making tools that helped them to explore new spaces in South Asia and Europe.

The development of the local populations of Homo erectus occurred in different ways, but commonalities allowed to put them into one Homo erectus group. During this period people learned how to make and use fire. Homo erectus appeared 1.6 million years ago, and went extinct about 200 thousand years ago.

Neanderthals

The Neanderthals lived on Earth approximately 350 - 35 thousand years ago. They lived in Europe and Asia, inhabited a variety of biotopes, but mostly preferred open spaces. Their physical built was different compared to Homo erectus, but they still retained many primitive features. Their brain size averaged 1500 cm3. After the first discovery in the Neander Valley (1856, Germany), they became known as the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis). During this period some very important events took place such as regular burial of their fellow tribesmen, final domestication of fire, cave dwellings, making clothes from animal skins, the gradual development of religious worship and early art.

In the right corner of the showcase you can see a figure of a little Neanderthal boy, whose remains were found in the burial. In 1939 to the South of Samarkand, in the mountain valley of the Sherabad River, in the gorge at an altitude of 1 500 m above sea level there was opened a grotto Teshik-Tash. This discovery was made by a famous archaeologist Alexey Pavlovich Okladnikov. During the excavation, he found a skull and a skeleton of a Neanderthal 8-9 year old male child. This finding was surrounded by a large number of fragmented animal bones. There were several horns of a mountain goat which was the main hunting object in these places. This was a discovery of a worldwide significance. It proves that the Neanderthals lived about a hundred thousand years ago in the middle of the continent of Asia in an environment close to modern, where there was no noticeable influence of an ice cover which changed so much the Northern Asia region.

Cro-Magnons

Cro-Magnons (early modern people) are widely represented by fossil remains of 40-20 thousand years ago. The most famous fossil remains of early modern Europeans were found in the Cro-Magnon shelter in France. Cro-Magnons were taller and less roughly built compared to the Neanderthals. The brain size averaged 1400 см3. Their forehead was fairly straight and they had a prominent chin. Physically Cro-Magnons were fairly similar to us. Currently both of us are considered as subspecies of Homo sapiens.

Cro-Magnons appeared in Africa 200 000 years ago. 100 000 years later they moved towards Eurasia and started exploring other continents. There was a great change in the quality of their material culture, Cro-Magnons learned to make a large variety of tools from bones and other material.

The right bust in the centre of the exposition is a reconstruction of a young man’s skull from the Cro-Magnon location. This person is not much different from us by his looks. However, the age of his fossil remains is 45 000 years ago. The prominent brow ridges seem to be the only archaic feature.

Cro-Magnons were very good at drawing and sculpting. The right part of the showcase presents a workshop of an early artist. The discovery of Paleolithic art in Western Europe, mainly cave paintings was a sensation at that time. Nobody assumed that true masterpieces were hidden in the depth of time. Early artists and contemporaries of mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses reached a very high creative level. But we can only guess about the true meaning and purpose of this wonderful art. Ancient people originally depicted only animals. The drawings of horses, mammoths, reindeers, woolly rhinoceroses and other animals have been carefully studied. Images of people in early art appeared much later.

The twin child burial in Sungir

A variety of Paleolithic settlements was discovered in Russia and Eurasia. These settlements were carefully studied by our leading archaeologists. Many of these discoveries have received worldwide recognition. The twin child burial in Sungir is one of such scientific treasures.

This showcase presents a plaster cast of the twin child burial which was found at the Paleolithic Sungir settlement, the grave №2. This particular settlement is of a great scientific, historical and cultural significance.

It was discovered in 1956 in the Vladimir oblast. The estimated age of the finding is 23-25 thousand years. This is the northernmost Paleolithic settlement on the Russian plain.

The grave №2 was dug up in the centre of a large home, in the place of the central hearth. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, were buried in the grave; their bodies were put closely head to head.

There are two sculptural reconstructions of kids over the burial. They are arranged according to the location of the skeletons in the grave.

Races and the origin of races

From a biological point of view, all living mankind belongs to one species Homo sapiens L., which is divided into a number of smaller units called races. A race is a territorial group of people allocated on the basis of their genetic relationship which manifests itself in many ways of physical similarity. Modern people are divided into 3 or 5 big races. The first group includes Equatorial (Negro-Australoid), Caucasian and Mongoloid. The second group consists of Negroid, Australoid, Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Americanoid.

When Homo sapiens left Africa 100 000 years ago, people already carried a hidden mosaic of racial characteristics within themselves. This mosaic included undifferentiated racial types. At first various ancient racial features appeared among migrants but later certain anthropological types were formed according to different regions of our planet.

Multiscreen multimedia exposition “The River of Time”


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