Human Evolution Timeline

By Matt Baker email   Updated 15 Dec 2011

This chart shows the step-by-step progression of human evolution, all the way from single cells to modern Homo sapiens.

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Approx. no.
of years ago

time period

What evolved


What branched off at this stage

3,500,000,000 Archeon

Prokaryote cells

These single-celled organisms are the simplest form of life. How they evolved is unknown, although they probably developed from simpler organic systems bacteria, archaea
2,000,000,000 Proterozoic

Eukaryote cells

These cells are more complex in that they have a nucleus and other specialized structures such as mitochondria. amoebas, algae, fungi, plants


These cells were the first to adhere together to form colonies.

Sea sponges

The first multi-celled animals were like the sea sponges of today. At this stage partially differentiated tissues started to evolve.


Cnidaria, like modern-day jellyfish, were the first animals with the ability to move freely due to the evolution of nerves and muscles. Simple eyes also evolved at this stage.

Flat worms

Flat worms were the first animals to have bilateral symmetry and a brain. worms, molluscs, insects
CAMBRIAN EXPLOSION - 'sudden' diversification of life

Paleozoic Era (Age of Fish)

530,000,000 Cambrian


These eel-like creatures were the first to have a more complex central nervous system. This stage occurred around the same time as the Cambrian explosion -- a period during which the animal kingdom underwent major diversification. (note: most of the images from Pikaia to Proconsul were created by Nobu Tamura from

Jawless fish

These creatures were the first to have a back bone although they still lacked the fins of proper fish.
480,000,000 Ordovician


These prehistoric fishes were the first to have jawed mouths, fins and a plate protecting their heads. fish, sharks
365,000,000 Carboniferous


Fish with four fins and upward facing eyes eventually evolved in more shallow, swampy habitats. The front limbs eventually evolved to bend backwards and the back limbs to bend frontwards.


From the early tetrapods evolved the first amphibians, capable of dwelling both in the water and on the land. At this stage, lungs started to develop. amphibians (such as frogs)
300,000,000 Permian


Reptiles were the first tetrapods to lay eggs on land and live primarily on land. reptiles, dinosaurs, and birds
PERMIAN-TRIASSIC EXTINCTION - 96% of marine species become extinct

Mesozoic Era (Age of Dinosaurs)

250,000,000 Triassic


Reptiles had eventually split into sauropsids (true reptiles) and synapsids (proto-mammals). Synapsids evolved a pair of holes in their skulls behind the eyes.


Mammals eventually evolved to have warm blood, hair and the ability to manage their temperature by sweating. Instead of laying eggs, they give birth to live babies and feed them with milk. non-primate mammals
K-T EXTINCTION - asteroid impact causes the extinction of the dinosaurs

Cenozoic Era (Age of Mammals)

65,000,000 Paleogene


The first primates evolved around the same time that the dinosaurs died out. They eventually developed opposable thumbs, very useful for living in trees.


The newly publicized Darwinius was a transitional form between the prosimians (lemurs & tarsiers) and simians (monkeys & apes). By this point, primates had evolved forward-facing eyes. lemurs, tarsiers


Around this time, new world (South American) monkeys and old world (African) monkeys started evolving in different directions. Aegyptopithicus is one the earliest known old world monkeys new world monkeys


Some old world monkeys eventually evolved ape-like qualities such as stronger shoulders, larger brains, better vision, and the lack of a tail. Proconsul is one of the earliest known ape-like primates. old world monkeys, gibbons
13,000,000 Neogene


The recently publicized Pierolapithecus might be the common ancestor of all great apes. The great apes are all larger, stronger, more intelligent, and more social than other primates. orangutans, gorillas

Sahelanthropus Ttchadensis

Sahelanthropus, nicknamed "Toumai", may represent the last ancestor common ancestor between chimpanzees and humans. At this point, the layrnx evolved, which would eventually allow for more complex speech. chimpanzees, bonobos

Australopithicus Afarensis

It is believed that the jungle started to get cooler and dryer around this time and that this forced some apes to spend more time on the ground, eventually leading to bipedalism. One of the first species to walk on two feet was Australopithecus Afarensis (nicknamed "Lucy"). Australopithicenes, Paranthropus
2,500,000 Quaternary

Homo Habilis

The earliest human species, homo habilis had larger brains than its predecessors, ate more meat, and started using the first stone tools Homo Erectus, Homo Floresiensis?

Homo Ergaster

Homo Ergaster had shorter arms (like modern humans), less body hair and the ability to use fire. They lived entirely on the ground and developed greater cooperation between males and females. Humans also left Africa for the first time during this period.

Homo Heidelbergensis

Homo Heidelbergensis had a larger brain and used more advanced tools. He is also the ancestor of the Neanderthals -- the last major human species to co-exist with homo sapiens. Neanderthals

Homo Sapiens

The first biologically modern Homo Sapiens evolved around 100,000 years ago in Africa. However, it was until about 50,000 years ago that they developed modern behaviours such as jewelry-making, wall painting, musical instruments, funeral customs, religion, long-distance trade, fishing, advanced language and abstract thought.

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