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Stone Age to Iron Age
The very first animals that were human-like are called hominids and, most scientists would agree, had the same ancestors as apes. About 30 million years ago the very first apes appeared and it was roughly 25 million more years, 5 million years ago, that the first hominids turned up.
The first hominid, known as Australopithecus, lived in Africa from five million to one million years ago. To modern eyes they would have looked very much like apes though, over the four million years of their development, they began walking more or less upright and their brains began to enlarge.
Australopithecus were arboreal – they lived in trees. They would come down to the ground to find berries, plants and nuts to eat but they slept and existed mainly in trees. This was probably the safest place to be to escape predators on the ground. Remember, they didn’t yet have the ability to build any kind of shelter for themselves.
Around two million years ago Australopithecus began to evolve into the first hominid that we might recognise as being humans, or Homo (the group of hominids of which we are a part), Homo habilis. Homo habilis means “handy man” in Latin and they were so called because they were able to use basic tools for the first time and build rudimentary shelters.
Homo habilis was able to make these advances for two main reasons:
firstly, their brains had increased in size over time so they were able to process more complex ideas and, secondly, their thumbs had begun to elongate which meant they were able to grip and manipulate objects much more easily than Australopithecus.
Because of these changes Homo habilis moved out of the trees and began to live on the ground.
Another difference from Australopithecus was that Homo habilis ate meat, probably scavenging from dead animals left by other predators, and the increased protein and fat in their diet made them stronger and larger as well as aiding in the development of their brains.