The Coming of Humans
The Third Great Lesson


Teacher Preparation and Resources

The Coming of Humans

The Early Human Play

Journal Suggestions

Key Lessons

Follow Up

Upper Elementary Ideas

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Again I wait for that lull in the excitement, but it may not be as obvious this time. The students love to discuss Early Humans, but may not be as eager to research it formally. More often, two or three older students get drawn into it, but last year one second grader took on all of human history by himself. It is usually early October.

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Teacher Preparation and Resources

I think that most human research is now pointing to an Out of Africa Theory so this is what I teach along with geological occurrences that helped to drive evolution along certain paths. I would continue reading The Universe Story. This is a time for those Upper Elementary teachers to get into civilizations and how all that happened so if you're Upper Elementary read to the end of the book. Lower Elementary can stop at Chapter 9. Have I mentioned the wonderful time line in the back of this book? I really enjoyed African Exodus by Christopher Stringer as many good geological reasons are given for why things might have happened the way they did and I just finished reading Extinct Humans by Jeffery Schwartz which gives a great overview of the bush theory versus the tree trunk or clades versus tree theories. A new book that I will read this summer is The Hand by Frank R. Wilson explores how the freeing of the hand helped shape the brain, language and human culture.

I do not find the students as called to this lesson for follow up research, although they love to see videos and pictures. Lucy is a loved person in our room and for a while I could not get beyond the idea that all Australopithecines were Lucy. The Nova video of Human Origins Part I is so perfect for Lower El and Part 2 is a great continuation for Upper El. . Paleo World also has a good video which is more about the time of Homo Erectus called Struggle to Survive. Even if the language is a bit high, they love to watch. I think the real reason for research not being so exciting is that 1. so much animal research is happening and students this age are so very into animals and 2. I still cannot find many good resources for students this age.

I purchased a kit on Early Humans and it included a great time line that I like much better than the Montessori traditional. It included a wonderful resource book that students can understand and read independently Our Amazing Ancestors by Caleb Crowell. It is put out by Educational Design Inc. It also has some great templates for stone tools and artifacts and panels of the heads and skulls of 4 species of humans. It also has great pictures of cave painting that I use for the beginning of History of writing.

National Geographic has great pictures and the text can be highlighted to provide more information, although we mostly go for the pictures. February 1997: The First Steps has a great picture of the human footsteps found in Tanzania and a good early chart of the species of Australopithecine's, their brain size, and where they lived. March 1996: has much more realistic pictures of Australopithecine's than 1997. January 1996: Neanderthals has a great virtual picture and goes into much detail of their difficult lives.

Several years ago we worked as a class to do The Fundamental Needs of Early Humans. That was fun and group research is easier in this area. One year four students who researched Homo Erectus made a hut of sticks in the playground in that style. Every two or three years we take a field trip to a nearby museum to see their Early Human exhibit and hear Steve Watts (Tom Hanks assist in Castaway) tell his stories. They love this.

Discussion (student replies in bold - you may have to prompt)

I always begin Early Human with a discussion about what makes humans special. The following should give ideas of what to say, but this should be a discussion. Religion may come into this, and I tell the students this is part of our culture that we'll talk about late in Fundamental Needs, but that for right now we're looking at scientific ideas.

Who remembers what the last mammal was on the Time Line of Life? How was Earth prepared for this mammal's life?

Earth had to cool and this took a long, long time.
The corral ate the minerals in the murky water.
Life diversified and filled the seas.
Plants came to live on the land making soil.
Insects came to live on the land providing food for those that followed.

At last, the earth was ready. Only then could the human being come. A human similar to you and me. It was certainly a very long time since the beginning of the cooling of the earth until the human being came. You remember that tiny little red strip at the end of the long strip we unrolled? The red part reminds us that human beings have been on the earth for only a very short time of the earth's history.

Today, let's think about the human being for a while and talk about why the human being is so special. When the human being came onto the earth, he or she was very different from all the other animals that had come before. What made this human being so different and special?

The mind or brain.

Your mind is thinking now. Perhaps you're wondering what I'm goring to say next. Or you might be thinking something else. This kind of mind that could think about things was special and belonged only to human beings. Human beings could think and wonder about the wind blowing, the rain, the stars. Some people made up and told stories about what they were thinking. People still do this today.


There is another thing that made human beings so different from anything else on Earth. A human being could love. You can love. I can love. I can love my mother, my sisters, my brothers, my father, my family, you, all the people in the whole school. Even more, you and I can love those close to us, but we can also love and care for those far away from us. We can wish that all people on earth have something to eat. In this way, we can love people we do not know or cannot see.

Scientists thought it was our brain that allowed us to love and think, but there might have been something more important. When humans stood up on two legs, their hands were free to hold their babies while working and traveling. Perhaps this helped love to develop. Standing up also freed their hands to touch and hold and examine objects from different perspectives. Perhaps this helped our minds to develop.

So humans have three special gifts: the hand, the mind and the ability to love

There is something else to think about. When the human being came to live on earth, he or she could do a great many more things than plants or other animals could do. Each animal and plant was given its own special life. For example, each plant grows to a certain size. Some plants have flowers, come have cones. Each animal eats what is special to its kind. Some birds eat fruit, and some eat insects. Some mammals eat grass and some eat meat. All the birds of the same kind eat the same food.

But the human being eats all kinds of different things. What did you all have to eat today?

Not only do people eat all kinds of different things, but they live in different houses -- some live in brick houses, some in wood houses, some in mud houses. In these houses, there might be glass doors, wooden doors, steel doors or no doors at all. Just think about all the different kinds of houses you pass on your way to school.

How is it that human beings can live in all kinds of different ways? It is because the human being has these special gifts. Hands which he or she could use to make things with, minds that can think of solutions to problems and love that makes us want to do thing for others. Human being walk on two legs so that the hands can be free to make things and hold those they love. Imagine if this were not so. Think how difficult it would be if you had to crawl around and hold a pencil, or read a book, or dust, or do all the things you do every day. So that tiny picture at the end of the time line shows us the short time humankind has been on earth. Isn't it amazing that in this short time, this kind of life with its special gifts of mind, love and hands, has done and still can do so many things.

The story of humankind began a long time ago on earth and this story is very exciting. There's a lot to find out about humankind and what has been happening since the human being came onto Earth.

This is the first story we've had about humans. There will be more stories. Another day we will talk about the first human who came on the earth. That was a long, long, long time ago. But they were just like you and me. They had a mind, they could love, they could use their hands.

The Hand Time Line

black strip (3 m 25-30 cm wide)
1 cm from end -is a red strip showing written history
In middle there is a hand holding a tool
The time line is black as unwritten history is unknown

Remember the other day when we talked about human beings who can think, love and use their hands?

Think back to the first humans on earth. At the beginning of this time line, humans are living on the earth. This human who could think and love and work with hands lived on Earth which provided enough to eat, stones to make houses with, a sun to warm the earth so that plants would grow, and water to drink. All the things which people needed were available.

Right here at the beginning, people were already living on the earth. What are they doing? (Since the time line is blank some of the students look at you as if you are crazy. If no one raises their hand, continue looking at the time line pretending to see pictures and they will follow.)

They are looking for food.
They are fishing.
They are singing to their baby.
They are playing tag.

Continue unrolling. So, all this time people are living on the earth, finding and making the things necessary for them to live. They found food, shelter, and protection from things which would harm them. They loved their children and cared for them. (uncover the hand)

Look! Remember we said that a human could think and love and also was able to work with the hand? Here is a picture of the hand to remind us of one of these special gifts. Humans, right from the beginning were using their hands - fishing, gathering fruits, rocking thier babies. Not just from this time, but from the very beginning. What is this hand holding?

A rock. A tool.

Yes, humans discovered how to use tools and this changed their life. They could make clothing when the weather turned colder during the Ice Age. They could make blankets to lay on and cut down trees to make houses they covered with skins. They began to realize that other places were waiting to be explored and people began to travel. Soon cities were established. I wonder what this red line is for?


Yes, humans wanted to share their visions and record what they did during the day, but this is a lesson for another day.

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The Coming of Humans

Have you ever wondered what may have caused the emergence of human beings? This is a lesson that may answer some of those questions.

(You need to make a map of Africa that shows where the apes live now and a map that shows where human fossils have been found)

Thirty-five million years ago in the Miocene Era the great apes flourished in the warm forested areas of Africa, Europe and Asia. This was their period of greatness, but it was not to last. During the next 15 million years the Earth entered a long period of cooling. The North and South Pole ice packs expanded causing the rest of the Earth to become drier. The forests shrank and the deserts grew. The apes became isolated in small forested areas of Africa and Southeast Asia. They competed with the monkeys for food and habitation and the monkeys were winning. Perhaps the monkeys succeeded because they could eat unripe fruit which left less choice for the apes who had to wait until the fruit ripened.

By 10 million years ago, there were only 4 species of apes left: the gorilla, orangutan, chimpanzee and bonobo. Paleontologists have recently uncovered fossils of a new extinct species that lived 4.5 million years ago , Ardipithecus ramidus, ground man who may be the root of all humans, in Aramis, Ethiopia. The fossils are human-like in that the eye teeth are smaller and the base of the skull is small which means that this ape was bipedal, walking on two legs. Animals that walk with four legs or on their knuckles need a large base of the skull to accommodate the large muscles that hold up the head. The fossils were also ape-like though, in that the molars were small and had a light covering of enamel which shows that it ate mostly fruit. It lived at the forest's edge.

Why would apes have left the forest? Perhaps the answers can be found in Earth itself. The continent of Africa lies on two plates which are slowly pulling apart. A giant rift running from Ethiopia, through Kenya, Tanzania and into Mozambique is the result of this endless pressure. Mountains also formed along the edges as magma rose from the Earth's mantle. These mountains changed the climate slowly but steadily. The area west of the rift remained moist and the forests flourished while the area east of the rift became drier and the forest slowly disappeared, replaced by savannas or grasslands. It was on this side of the rift that a new species of apes made its home.

This new ape flourished and evolved, and over the next 2 million years, several species lived in Africa each in a particular habitat, along the lakes, at the forest's edge or in the grassland itself and each developing different skills and life styles. They became tool users and ate a diet particular to their habitat. Paleontologists call this era the Lower Paleolithic or Early Stone Age.

Then around 2 million years age, the Earth became even drier. Most species of humans died off, unable to sustain themselves on the dwindling food. One, however, found a way to survive. Home Erectus was an important turning point in human evolution. They lived mainly around the watering holes of animals. Here they could use tools that they manipulated into shapes that served their needs to either kill animals or scavenge from those killed by others.

They copied the strengths they observed in other animals - using sticks like the claws of lions to dig and axes and spears to hunt and rip open their prey. They ate a variety of food, but a good quantity of their food was meat. This new diet allowed them to eat less and receive more energy; their brain grew and their bodies became taller, even reaching 6 feet. Their hips became more like ours so that walking long distances became possible and walk they did. By 1 million years ago Homo Erectus had populated all the warmer areas of Earth.

While isolated in different areas Homo Erectus developed different characteristics and life styles related to their habitat, but their tools remained virtually unchanged for about 500,000 years. The Earth was again cooling and many societies did not survive as the ice moved down into Europe. In Europe one group successfully evolved into a hardy species known as Neanderthal. They had wide nasal passages to warm the cold air before it entered their lungs and stocky, strong bodies that conserved energy. They would live on until 35,000 years ago when their numbers finally dwindled to extinction. Homo Erectus did not survive the Earth's challenge.

In Africa however, the humans had been isolated. The Sahara had spread until North Africa was cut off and the Kalahari Desert had separated north Africa. The forests again shrank, but humans living between the great deserts were again evolving. New tools were being developed and their brain size was close to that of modern humans. When the ice age ended, they again walked out of Africa into the Middle East and Asia, One more geological event was to challenge the survival of this new species. 74,000 years ago Mount Toba in Sumatra exploded in the largest volcanic eruption known to date. The Earth again cooled as the sun was blocked by huge clouds of ash. Many animals died, but this new species named Homo Sapiens did survive and 30,000 years ago the Earth supported about 300,000 people. These new people moved into all habitable areas of Earth and slowly evolved into the many kinds of people that we see today.

Our history on Earth is very short. 200,000 years is a blink of an eye in the history of all life on Earth. Many species, including some of our own, have tried to find a life here on Earth only finding the challenge too great. Remember that life on Earth began its journey over 3 billion years ago with small microorganisms too small to detect. They have led us to our present diversity. All life is interconnected with each other and with the Earth itself. It is up to each one of us to protect the Earth and the species that have evolved over so many millions of billions of years ago.

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Journal Suggestions

An Ice Age caused the weather to cool. Plate tectonics caused the eastern side of Africa to pull away and mountains formed. How did the weather and plate movement affect the vegetation on the east coast of Africa?

There were many species of humans when they first evolved. What were the last two species of Humans? What was the only one to survive?

Humans have a special place among mammals as they have an awareness of their actions. They can also love those they have not met. What is our job on Earth? Then the dinosaurs died, the lowly mammals began their dominance of Earth. Apes and monkeys lived in the lush forests of Asia, Europe and Africa. What is the difference between an ape and a monkey? Why might the monkey have an advantage?

There are an amazing different number of species of mammals. What different kinds can you name? What do they have in common?

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Key Lessons

Fundamental Needs

In order to live, people need different things. One kind of need is spiritual and others are material. Material needs are things people need to survive. One thing people need is food. Food is fuel for our body. If we did not have food, we would die. We need clothing for our bodies, and housing that's another protection for our bodies. These are called material needs. There is something else we need, we need love. We need the love of our mother or father. We need that love to have someone care for us or we become unhappy and isolated. Humans like to share their wonder and joy with others. Their wonder may be found in books, or in art or in jewelry. These are our spiritual needs.

Who sees other things?

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Follow Up

Human Body

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Mammals who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story
Jennifer Morgan
Dawn Publications
ISBN 1 584690 85 2

Flint and Neolithic Man
Cybil B Golding
Publicity Services

The Iceman
Don Lessem
Crown Publishers ISBN 0 517 59596 6

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Upper Elementary Ideas

In Upper Elementary this lesson would continue with the civilization timelines. In Lower Elementary my students are introduced to Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and Indus civilizations in The History of Writing and may add Rome and Greece during horizontal, vertical history. We do not talk much about how these civilization came to be or why they flourished or declined though. We more just look at their lives. In Upper Elementary, the reason for civilizations and their methods of merging are explored. There are spiritual and material needs that affect people and their civilizations well as pivotal inventions. War and the techniques of overpowering other civilizations may become a focus.

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Copyright © 2007 Barbara Dubinsky