7 Mind Blowing Facts About The Human Race

The modern human. The Homo Sapien. The noble ape. Whatever you want to call us, humans are a weird old bunch. We stick out from the rest of the animal kingdom like a sore opposable thumb with our bipedalism, (mostly) hairless bodies and penchant for living in concrete boxes and watching Netflix. The question is, how did we get here?

Despite the breadth of variety in the human population, we are all (mostly) descended from a single African lineage. Despite the booming human population, there was a time when we were treading the knife edge of extinction.

Despite the relatively short amount of time we've been mooching around the place, our presence is already felt on stars and planets many light years away.

Like we said, humans are a weird old bunch. So, as humans, we're not content with simply eating, sleeping and having sex like the rest of the animal kingdom (although many modern humans would think that this sounds like a pretty great life), we are unique amongst life on Earth for having built a civilisation. What is it about humans that have made us the way we are?

7. Only A Few Families Made It Out Of Africa

Gate Of Grief Africa

When anthropologists say that all humans are descended from ancient Africans, what they actually mean is that all humans (outside of Africa) are descended from a very limited selection of ancient Africans.

Whilst in Africa itself, there are thought to be 14 separate ancestral lineages, just one of these families seems to have survived outside of the continent, and even this was pure chance.

The crossing from the African continent to the rest of the world was a perilous journey. Some evidence suggests that one group of early humans managed it, only to die out completely later one due to climate change. Then, around 70,000 years ago, a small group of humans perhaps no larger than 200 people, made the crossing over the Red Sea, at the point known as the Gate of Grief, and into Arabia, Asia and Europe.

Genetic research shows that every single non-African on the planet can trace their ancestry back to this handful of pioneers.

6. We Were Once Considered An Endangered Species

Early Human History (book Illustration)

It is thanks to the early human explorers that we ever made it out of Africa at all but, once we made the crossing, the worst was yet to come.

Researchers have found that, around the time our ancestors were spreading through Africa, Europe and Asia, there were probably only around 18,500 individuals capable of breeding (and no more than 26,000). These numbers are low enough to land you on the endangered species list these days, complete with your own TV appeal and wildlife sanctuaries. Humanity was on a knife edge.

Humans have a lower genetic diversity than a lot of our primate cousins, and this is due to this inexplicable near-extinction around that time. Some think that this could have been due to climate change, or even a catastrophic volcanic eruption, triggering a global nuclear winter.

5. There Is A Theory That The Chinese Are A Different Species

Flushing Main St, Kissena Blvd, And 41 Av Crowded Intersection Chinese People

So, we've just said that every non-African in the world is descended from a handful of ancient Africans, but not everyone agrees with this hypothesis.

There is a growing movement in Chinese anthropology that suggests that the Chinese people are descended from a different branch of homo erectus that made it out of Africa long before homo sapiens were on the scene. This is part of the rationale as to why the typical Chinese features are so drastically different from typical black African features. Some also think that the theory is supported by the fact that many ancient tools found by archaeologists in China are extremely primitive compared to homo sapien finds, suggesting that they couldn't possibly have been produced by the advanced toolmakers.

Although many are convinced of this theory, every genetic sampling experiment so far has produced a result consistent with the Chinese being descended from the same line as the rest of us, and some even theorise that the lack of stone tools could be due to the primitive Chinese humans making their tools out of the abundant bamboo in the region instead.

4. Europeans Are White Because Of Vitamin D

Mean Girls Why Are You White Karen
Paramount Pictures

Speaking of the staggering physical variations between humans, there's a pretty obvious question we need to address: If we're all descended from black Africans, why are there white people?

Just like it is thought that Asian features developed in response to a colder climate, with smaller features and flatter faces, pale skin is thought by some experts to have evolved in response to the weaker sunlight in the northern climes of Europe.

It's all to do with vitamin D. We make this vital vitamin in our skin when we're exposed to sunlight and, whilst dark skin is good for protecting against the sun's harmful UV rays, it prevents vitamin D production in the watery sunlight of Europe. Vitamin D deficiency cause, amongst other things, a condition called rickets, which can lead to deformation and even death.

This means that light skin could have been evolutionarily selected as those with darker skin were less likely to survive in the weak light.

It is likely that there were a number of evolutionary pressures on the development of lighter skin, but this could have been one of the major contributing factors.

3. Our Brains Have Actually Shrunk (And It Could Be Because We Domesticated Ourselves)

Small Brain

Throughout the vast majority of human evolutionary history, our brains have been getting steadily bigger; it's one of the major markers we use to determine how advanced our species is. Over the past 10,000 to 20,000 years, however, nature has slammed it into reverse, and our noggins have been getting smaller.

So, are we just getting stupider? Perhaps, but there are also other factors that could be at play.

One explanations could be that running a big brain is very energetically costly, so when we began to develop systems to store information outside of the brain (painting, writing, hard drives etc.) we no longer needed to drag all that extra brain around with us.

Another, slightly worrying possibility is that it could be because we have effectively domesticated ourselves in our modern world. We know that when we domesticate animals, their brains and bodies get smaller too, due to a lesser need to fend for themselves in the wild. Since we effectively removed ourselves from the dog-eat-dog world of the animal kingdom, we have also found that we need less brainpower just to stay alive.

Either that or we really are getting stupider.

2. We’re Actually Not That Physically Weak

Arnold schwarzenegger
Cinema 5

Speaking of brains, we seem to have this idea that our big old human brains are our only line of defence in the brutish, brawny animal kingdom. We don't have claws, or thick fur or sharp teeth, so how the blazes did we find ourselves perched at the top of the food chain? Surely you can't simply outsmart the entire animal kingdom.

As it turns out, we have a lot more physical prowess than we give ourselves credit for. As mammals, and particularly primates, we're also exceptional swimmers, potentially allowing us to cross impassable terrain and fish in deep waters.

We're also exceptional runners. Sure, we probably wouldn't outrun a cheetah, but over long distances, humans are pretty formidable. We can just keep on going, capable of repeatedly turning up out of the blue and simply exhausting our prey to death. Pretty sinister.

1. The Human Explosion

The human race has gone from a handful of tribes on the brink of extinction, to the dominant species on the planet.
It took us a while as well. We spent millions of years living essentially wild. The invention of fire gave us a quick boost, and we lived for many thousands of years as disparate bands of hunter gatherers.
This really begin to kick off at the invention of agriculture, which allows us to produce such a massive surplus of food, that we can spare the time and labour to build settlements, towns, and eventually great cities. We then had the time to sit around and think about science, art, engineering and religion. We built empires, populations boomed.
Now, in just the last 5o years, the population has more than doubled. In the next two days, humanity will generate more data than was created between the dawn of civilisation and the year 2003.
Humanity is still set on this trajectory, potentially even taking our first steps towards becoming an interplanetary species and, given the rate we're going, who knows where we'll be in another million years.

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