Evolutionary biology is not a slow-moving science. Just last month a new species of hominid (Homo naledi) was unveiled at a news conference in South Africa. When did modern humans branch off as an independent species? What have been our most important adaptations? And, most importantly, what is the next evolutionary step for humanity? We reached out and spoke to five of the foremost experts on human evolution, who shared their expertise and predictions.
Anatomically modern Homo sapiens (us), are thought to have emerged as a distinct species around 200,000 years ago in Africa. While we often imagine one species of hominid handing the baton to the next in a neat, linear “evolution of man” progression, Homo sapiens lived simultaneously with several other hominid species—Homo neanderthalensis, Homo floresiensis, and the much older Homo erectus, whose geographic and temporal boundaries remain fuzzy. They also had sex with each other, as evidenced by the amount of Neanderthal DNA in our genetic material (about 2.5% – 3% on average).