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 Home » Tutorials » Zoology » Evolution of Man

Evolution of Man



We have reserved for a closer inquiry that order of the placental mammals to which we ourselves belong, and on which zoologists have bestowed the very proper and distinguishing name of the Primates.

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Since the days of Darwin there has been some tendency to resent the term "lower animals," which man applies to his poorer relations. But, though there is no such thing as an absolute standard by which we may judge the "higher" or "lower" status of animals or plants, the extraordinary power which man has by his brain development attained over both animate and inanimate nature fully justifies the phrase. The Primate order is, therefore, of supreme interest as the family that gave birth to man, and it is important to discover the agencies which impelled some primitive member of it to enter upon the path which led to this summit of organic nature.

The order includes the femurs, a large and primitive family with ape-like features--the Germans call them "half-apes"--the monkeys, the man-like apes, and man. This classification according to structure corresponds with the successive appearance of the various families in the geological record. The femurs appear in the Eocene; the monkeys, and afterwards the apes, in the Miocene, the first semi-human forms in the Pleistocene, though they must have been developed before this. It is hardly necessary to say that science does not regard man as a descendant of the known anthropoid apes, or these as descended from the monkeys. They are successive types or phases of development, diverging early from each other. Just as the succeeding horse-types of the record are not necessarily related to each other in a direct line, yet illustrate the evolution of a type which culminates in the horse, so the spreading and branching members of the Primate group illustrate the evolution of a type of organism which culminates in man. The particular relationship of the various families, living and dead, will need careful study.

That there is a general blood-relationship, and that man is much more closely related to the anthropoid apes than to any of the lower Primates, is no longer a matter of controversy. In Rudolph Virchow there died, a few years ago, the last authoritative man of science to express any doubt about it. There are, however, non-scientific writers who, by repeating the ambiguous phrase that it is "only a theory," convey the impression to inexpert readers that it is still more or less an open question. We will therefore indicate a few of the lines of evidence which have overcome the last hesitations of scientific men, and closed the discussion as to the fact.

The very close analogy of structure between man and the ape at once suggests that they had a common ancestor. There are cases in which two widely removed animals may develop a similar organ independently, but there is assuredly no possibility of their being alike in all organs, unless by common inheritance. Yet the essential identity of structure in man and the ape is only confirmed by every advance of science, and would of itself prove the common parentage. Such minor differences as there are between man and the higher ape--in the development of the cerebrum, the number of the teeth or ribs, the distribution of the hair, and so on--are quite explicable when we reflect that the two groups must have diverged from each other more than a million years ago

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