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Jimmy Doherty in Darwin's Garden: Evolutionary timeline

Updated Tuesday, 24th February 2009

Jimmy Doherty draws a line in the sand - to show evolutionary scale on the timeline

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Jimmy Doherty: I’d like to draw a timeline in the sand and for you to place them down just so I can get my head round it.

Chris Stringer: Yeah, we can do that.

Jimmy Doherty: If I take these two, and I’ll take that as well ...

Chris Stringer: Then I can measure it, yes, excellent.

Jimmy Doherty: Alright, I’ve got a stick here. Here’s a great bit of sand up here, look. So, if we place them down... so if I draw out, if I start say, here, that’s the present day?

Chris Stringer: Yeah.

Jimmy Doherty: So we’ve got one, that’s a million years?

Chris Stringer: Yeah.

Jimmy Doherty: Alright. Two

Chris Stringer: Two million years.

Jimmy Doherty: Three.

Chris Stringer: Three million years.

Jimmy Doherty: One more.

Chris Stringer: And let’s do one more, four million.

Jimmy Doherty: Four million years, okay. That’s my line in the sand, look.

Chris Stringer: Okay.

Jimmy Doherty: So I’ll be here, I’ll be modern man.

Chris Stringer: Right, okay.

Jimmy Doherty: And if you place out...

Chris Stringer: Do you want to go back in time from now or do you want to start at the start?

Jimmy Doherty: I fancy going back in time.

Chris Stringer: Right, okay, well then here’s our evolutionary brother, the Neanderthal, or sister, and that’s only about 50,000 years old, so that’s only going to be about here.

Jimmy Doherty: Right. So Neanderthals very close to us in terms of time.

Chris Stringer: In geological time it’s fairly close.

Jimmy Doherty: Yeah, and a very evolved species.

Chris Stringer: Right, the next thing will be this hand axe from Haysborough, right from here to about, well 500,000 to 700,000 years old. So we’ll put it about there.

Jimmy Doherty: Okay.

Chris Stringer: Now we’re moving back in time to the first real humans in Africa nearly two million years ago, Homo erectus. So that’s going to be about 1¾ million years.

Jimmy Doherty: A bit further away now.

Chris Stringer: Yeah, we’re moving away, way back now. The oldest stone tools known in Africa are 2½ million years old.

Jimmy Doherty: 2½ million years ago.

Chris Stringer: Yeah. So that’s about there. This skull of the southern ape, Australopithecine, is about 2¾ million years old from South Africa.

Jimmy Doherty: It’s amazing when they’re put out like this because you can start seeing the distance.

Chris Stringer: Yes, absolutely. And last but not least, Lucy’s pelvis dates just over 3 million years, but there’s evidence that goes back to at least 4 million that creatures were walking upright in Africa.

Jimmy Doherty: Good Lord. So it’s some timeline really.

Chris Stringer: It is. And it just shows just, you know, our little bit of evolutionary history is just here, that’s us and the Neanderthals, very recent, and then we go back and in fact our line in Africa probably goes back at least 6 million years to when we had a common ancestor with the chimpanzees.

Jimmy Doherty: 6 million years.

Chris Stringer: yeah.

Jimmy Doherty: Wow. It’s fantastic.

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