What do you know about human evolution?

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"Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."

— Mark Twain 

Question 1 of 16

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Homo sapiens
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About how long have Homo sapiens existed?

According to the fossil record and genetic evidence, the first members of our species probably lived about 200,000 years ago.

Question 2 of 16

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What species was likely the first to harness fire?

The earliest-known campfire, found at a cave in South Africa, dates back 1 million years. That's about 800,000 years before Homo sapiens came along, but it's well within the heyday of Homo erectus, who is now considered the most likely human species to have pioneered the use of fire.

Question 3 of 16

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How are humans related to chimpanzees?

The ancestors of all modern-day humans and chimpanzees branched off from a common ancestor sometime between 6 million and 8 million years ago. We're closely related, but neither species descended from the other.

Question 4 of 16

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Homo antecessor
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Which of these traits came most recently in human evolution?

Early human species were mostly bipedal by 4 million years ago. Our fully opposable thumbs date back to at least Homo habilis about 2.5 million years ago (although other primates also have partially opposable thumbs), as do our earliest-known stone tools. Humans still had relatively small brains, though, until a rapid expansion that lasted from 800,000 to 200,000 years ago.

Question 5 of 16

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What kind of ape was "Lucy," the famous skeleton discovered in 1974?

Lucy was an australopithecine (meaning "southern ape") who lived in East Africa 3.2 million years ago. Scientists found 40 percent of her skeleton in 1974, revealing a small brain and large brow that resembled earlier apes, but humanlike teeth and adaptations for walking on two feet.

Question 6 of 16

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Sahelanthropus tchadensis skull
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How can the skull of an extinct ape tell scientists whether the species was mostly bipedal?

The hole through which the spinal cord connects to the brain, known as the foramen magnum, has long been used to indicate the angle of an animal's spine. Apes that walk mainly on four legs tend to have a rear-facing foramen magnum, while bipedal apes — including modern humans and some extinct ancestors — tend to have a downward-facing foramen magnum.

Question 7 of 16

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human eye
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Why are the whites of human eyes so white compared with other primates?

Unlike most primates, the iris of a human eye stands out against the white backdrop of our sclera, making it easy to tell where we're looking. According to the cooperative eye hypothesis, this evolved to help us trace each others' gaze for communication and cooperation during tasks like hunting.

Question 8 of 16

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head model
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How long ago was the most recent human extinction, according to fossil evidence?

Fossils found in Indonesia suggest Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "hobbits" for their small size, survived as recently as 17,000 years ago. The freshest known fossils of Neanderthals and Denisovans date back more than 30,000 years, and Homo erectus seems to have died out 100,000 years before that.

Question 9 of 16

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arm hair
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About how many hairs do humans have per square inch of skin compared with chimpanzees?

We have roughly the same number of hair follicles per square inch of skin as a chimpanzee, but a chimp's hairs are longer, thicker and darker. Scientists think our ancestors' hair dwindled more than a million years ago to help them lose body heat more efficiently on the African savanna.

Question 10 of 16

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human evolution
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This may have been the first human species to live in cold climates and build shelters. Who is it?

Named after the German town where its bones were first found, Homo heidelbergensis is considered a pioneer in colonizing Europe, hunting large animals and building simple shelters. Many experts also consider this species a likely ancestor of both humans and neanderthals.

Question 11 of 16

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Which of these most likely gave Homo sapiens an edge over neanderthals?

Neanderthal brains were about the same size as ours, and often larger. We outlasted them, though, and without the help of iron or horses, both of which took us many more millennia to wrangle. Domesticated dogs may date back more than 30,000 years, and a 2015 book suggests their hunting skills helped us adapt to climate changes that clobbered the neanderthals.

Question 12 of 16

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human silhouette
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What innovation transformed humanity about 12,000 years ago?

Humans have been wearing clothes for at least 100,000 years, but it was the first farmers about 12,000 years ago who helped us settle down, build towns and specialize, thus sowing the seeds of civilization.

Question 13 of 16

Score: 0

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What's the preferred term to distinguish human species from other apes?

Modern and extinct human species are "hominins," while great apes in general are "hominids." That's because in taxonomy, biological "families" end in "-idae" (like Hominidae) and subfamilies end in "-inae" (like Homininae). Scientists used to think humans were different enough from other apes to warrant a unique taxonomic family, so we once called ourselves "hominids" instead of "hominins." But it's now clear we're part of the great ape family.

Question 14 of 16

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crowd of people
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Are humans still evolving?

It might seem like civilization has buffered us from natural selection, since agriculture, medicine and modern technology now protect much of our species from fatal dangers. But as many studies have pointed out, natural selection simply favors whoever produces more offspring, regardless of the reason. So, as long as some individuals have more children than others, their genes are more likely to influence the future of our species.

Question 15 of 16

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human brain
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Are human brains getting larger or smaller overall?

Over the last 20,000 years or so, the average volume of a human brain has decreased from 1,500 to 1,350 cubic centimeters. It's not entirely clear why that's happening — some theories suggest we're actually getting dumber, while others suggest our brains are simply becoming more efficient.

Question 16 of 16

Score: 0

human silhouette
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Of all known human species, which holds the record for existing the longest?

Homo erectus survived for about 1.75 million years, more than nine times longer than our own species has existed so far.

You scored out of 16
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