Ever since the advent of evolutionary thought and the quasi-religious and often racist origins for the hypothesis of the “Ascent of Man,” (see below) scientists have illustrated their take on the tree of life, from simple to human.
Knowing little to nothing
of this history, but filled with newbie zeal, back in the day (1991) I wrote and illustrated “From the Beginning – the Story of Human Evolution” which presented 36 steps from raw chemicals to cells, worms, fish, reptiles, mammals, primates and humans. Included, along with skeletons, descriptions and hundreds of figures, was a two-page spread that illustrated the evolution of the human face from a worm on up.
Here’s the Update
Here (Fig. 1), with more taxa (added in gray) the picture is more complete. And, no doubt, this list of images is already incomplete and will continue to grow. But it does provide a good map of the process.
only Haptodus and the tree shrews, Tupaia and Ptilocercus, were dropped from the 1991 list. Ophiacodonts, rather than sphenacodonts, were found to be in the lineage of therapsids. Haptodus was replaced by the very similar Stenocybus. Vulpavus, rather than tree shrews, were found to nest closer to basal lemurs like Notharctus.
that size reduction and size increase is a large part of human evolution, especially at the origin of major clades (Reptilia, Therapsida, Mammalia). Likewise noteworthy are the rotation of the eyes to the front of the skull, the enlargement and reduction of the canines, the development of scales, hair and skin and the loss of gills, the appearance of the outer ear. Earlier we looked at the evolution of the mandible and ear ossicles here.
For anyone interested, a high-rez version is available by request.
Details also shown at reptileevolution.com
A Long History of Prehistory
The origin of humans has a long history going back several hundred years. More recently, professor WK Gregory of the AMNH published a book in 1929, “Our Face From Fish to Man” (Fig. 2, online here) that was popularized in a magazine viewable here. Like several earlier attempts at ordering the descent of modern humans, it suffers from a certain amount of racial bigotry.
Later WK Gregory (1951) published “Evolution Emerging – A Survey of Changing Patterns from Primeval Life to Man – Two Volumes,” in which more details were added because more fossils had been found (Fig. 3) in the 20 years since his first book.
The “Brain Pickings” blog of Maria Popova has a review of Theodore W. Pietsch about the history of evolutionary thought and family trees.
It seems as if
I have taken up WK Gregory’s mantle, taking it to the next level based on the new taxa discovered between now and then. Unfortunately, at present, this goes unrecognized because publishing online or for a children’s book and without a PhD is not taken as seriously as publishing in an academic journal without a PhD or publishing in an academic journal with a PhD. I’m working on that, but it’s going to take a PhD to recognize the value of the large reptile tree. I don’t see that happening any time soon. So, we’ll keep running alongside the mainstream.
Gregory WK 1929. Our Face from Fish to Man, G. P. Pntman’s Sens, New. York.
Gregory WK 1951. Evolution Emerging – A Survey of Changing Patterns from Primeval Life to Man – Two Volumes. Macmillan Company.
Peters D 1991. From the Beginning – The Story of Human Evolution, Little Brown. pdf
Theodore W. Pietsch 2012. Trees of Life – A Visual History of Evolution. Johns Hopkins University Press. online with preview at Amazon