We've heard so many different theories about where humans beings first came from over the years—the creation of Adam and Eve, storks bringing in newborn babies, etcetera, etcetera. But, the diagram of human evolution, created in 1965, put all those stories to rest. This diagram, which was a result of research and science, finally gave us a clear picture of how humans evolved. It started with a particular ape-like species that slowly evolved into the upright human beings that we are today.
Not that simple
Unfortunately, the real process of evolution isn’t as simple as it has been portrayed to be. Dr. Adam Rutherford, a geneticist from University College London, has said the diagram should realistically look more like a 'network' than a 'neat line.' He spoke at the Cheltenham Science Festival last week, saying:
It implies a directional sophistication and intelligence. It's from a textbook in 1965, and if I had one wish I would expunge it from the record of everything.
It suggests that there are ape-like ancestors and they begin to walk upright and eventually become us and it goes in a very nice, neat line.
This isn't how evolution works at all. We evolve to occupy whatever environmental niche we're in at that time…
Humans will keep evolving
He goes on to say that although it is very common to think that the human species is the ‘pinnacleofevolution,’ it is actually very plausible that we could go back to walking on all fours or even transform into a drastically different shape altogether. He adds:
We quite easily in the future could evolve into a completely different shape or go back to being quadrupedal [walking on all fours]. That's just how evolution works. The idea that evolution 'improves' is not correct.
Apart from the relationship between Neanderthals and us, which is that they were our ancestors, we don't really know what our ancestors were.
That picture says 'this is the route' and even names them. But I think one of the most important things in science is teaching people what we don't know, rather than just what we do know.