The continuum of human evolution


The goal of this assignment is for you to synthesize the theory and data we’ve covered about modern humans (Homo sapiens), our hominin ancestors, and our chimpanzee cousins, and explain the traits that you think make us human. Given the traits you think are most important, you will lay out the argument for which hominin ancestor was the first you are willing to call “human”. There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question. I just want to know what you think and to see you use evidence from the class to support your argument.


What are the key traits of Homo sapiens that you think makes us “human”? Which hominin species from the genus Homo do you think first qualifies as “human”? How do both these species significantly (or not) differ from Chimpanzees? The hominin species you select as the first “human” must be a member of the genus Homo (1.5 mya or more recent), and you must focus on a single species to compare to Homo sapiens. (If you think only Homo sapiens can be called human, then compare them to Homo neanderthalensis, arguing why their traits differ enough that you don’t consider Neanderthals human yet.) Compare both to Chimpanzees. You will need to include anatomical, behavioral, and cultural traits in your argument.

Read: Use the information already part of this class. Review the traits and the species you want to write about. Only use the Explorations textbook, module pages, and links provided on the module pages for your argument. Do not use direct quotes, whether cited or not. Everything must be written in your own words.

Organize: You will want to present information on the following kinds of traits for both Homo sapiens, your one chosen hominin species, and chimpanzees, in a comparative structure. For example, “Homo sapiens do X” and include a description and details about this. “Homo erectus did X too in mostly similar ways”, and include a description of how it is similar or different. “Chimpanzees are different because they do Y.” “Given these similarities, I think Homo erectus can be considered the first “human” hominin.” Also discuss the selective pressures that favored these traits, and how selection drove the evolution of “human” traits we see today.

This worksheet can help you organize things: Capstone Assignment Organization.docx
 The traits you should discuss include:

evidence for modern bipedal anatomy (pelvis, femur, foot, etc), compared to the knuckle-walking anatomy of chimpanzees. Describe each feature and how it functions.
skull shape and size, teeth size, and brain size, and how natural selection has shaped these features in response to diet and behavior
social lives, and life history features (specifically pay attention to the ideas covered in the second half of Week 7 discussing life history, and how these have changed due to selective pressures.
cultural artifacts like tools, clothing, shelters, fire, art, or other decorative activities. Relate these to diet, anatomy, social behavior, and life history as relevant.
Present: Share what you have learned in a clear and organized way. You can do this in a variety of formats.

4 short written essays (300-400 words each) one for each of the four numbered set of traits listed above. Or one longer essay doing the same (4 – 5 pages).
PowerPoint presentation (slides only, though be careful it has all the needed information). You will want to have several slides covering each of the points above.
A video of you giving your PowerPoint. You can also play the PowerPoint and record a voice-over.
A poster or drawing for each species or each of the 4 points above with species comparisons for each point.
A newspaper or magazine article, tinder profile, or other written presentation of the information that includes images and a bit more casual writing style or perspective on the presentation
A video of a skit or other performance about the species. I love interpretive dance and puppets 🙂
A quiz show about each species
A song or poem about each species
You tell me! I’m open to fun new ideas – message me and let’s discuss
Cite: list all sources of information you used in your presentation. This can be a single page separate from the presentation work, or incorporated into the presentation in creative ways. Let’s talk if you aren’t sure how to do this. Please use APA citation format.

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