You asked some tough questions! I don't think
scientists will ever know the answers to either
question, but we can make some good guesses based
on the data that we have, which is really what
science is all about.
If you've been reading
the paper in the last couple days, you may have
seen an article about a recent study trying to
determine when humans "first became human", or
when we developed culture (cave paintings,
societies). Apparently, this question is still
debated a lot, but most anthropologists agree that
our species (Homo sapiens) first evolved about
130,000 years ago. Before Homo sapiens, there were
other non-primate human-like beings as early as 3
million years ago, including Australopithecus,
Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, Homo heidelbergensis
and Homo Neandertalensis. You may have heard of
some of them. These are the organisms from which
humans are most recently evolved.
scientists will never know for sure if humans
evolved from primates, or if all living things on
the planet first evolved from single-celled
organisms like bacteria 3.5 BILLION years ago. So,
I can only give you my opinion, and that is that
yes, I believe humans evolved from primates. The
best evidence for this comes from DNA studies.
Some DNA sequences change (that is they mutate)
very rapidly. This is one reason why you can find
unique gene sequences in every organism.
Scientists can use these DNA sequences to
determine which person's blood is found at a crime
scene, or who the father is of a particular child.
Some DNA sequences, especially ribosomal DNA (DNA
required to make protein), change incredibly
slowly, because if something were to happen to
these sequences organisms would die. These DNA
sequences are shared by every living organism on
Earth. The large range of gene mutation rates
means that genetic sequences can be compared among
organisms to determine how similar they are to one
another. Primates like chimpanzees (chimps) and
bonobos have DNA that is 98-99% similar to human
DNA, suggesting primates are more closely related
to humans than any other group of living organisms
studied so far. Scientists working in the
1800's (e.g., Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel
Wallace) had already proposed that humans were
closely related to primates based on other kinds
of evidence, especially fossils. A good
read about this work is through the BBC web site
click here to read.
You know, the question you asked me is the same
question that churches, governments, scientists,
and many, many others debate about all the time.
If I knew the TRUTH, then I could answer that
debate once and for all. However, there is no
definite answer to your question. What I will tell
you are tidbits from each side of the story.
According to some people, the earliest humans
evolved from primates (probably something like the
chimpanzee) about 1-2 million years ago. They base
this off of humanoid (meaning "human-like")
they found in different parts of the world. They
dig these up and look at their
things have a small amount of harmless
radioactivity that is great for determining the
age of something) to figure out how old they are.
That's the simple version.
O.K., now there is
another side of the story. Some people suggest
that the earliest humans were created a few
thousand years ago, and that we are not related to
monkeys in any way. They base this off of written
accounts of humanity, for example the book of
genesis in the bible, and also based on the
absence of evidence connecting humans to apes.
Because of the strong differences in opinion, this
subject is very controversial, and most people get
very upset. As I scientist, I think it is
important to respect other people's ideas,
especially if we want them to respect us. That's
not so hard is it? Now here's a question for
you. Can you think of a way to prove that people
are related to monkeys? Can you think of a
disprove that people are related to monkeys? Spend
some time doing this and you will see just how
hard it is. Good luck!
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