When you look around the animal kingdom, you’ll notice that there is almost always a variety of different types of any species. For eapmle, there are literally hundreds of dog breeds, and each one is incredibly unique. Another intriguing example is the whale, which comes in a wide range of large, larger, and largest.
But this isn’t the case with humans.
What Happened to Leave Humans as the Sole Survivors?
Homo sapiens is the only type of humans that exist today. Maybe that’s why we keep growing our population – there are now nearly 8 billion of us around the planet. But no matter how different we think we are, there is only one type of human, with a few minor differences.
This has not always been the case. Tens of thousands of years ago, there were different types of humans stalking the Earth, usually evolved to meet different environments, very much like every other type of animal. Then, most of the different types of humans started disappearing.
So, what happened? Where did the other types of humans go?
1. Evolving in Africa
It is rare to come to anything like a consensus in the scientific community, and that is especially true regarding the many aspects of humans. One of the few things that the scientific community does agree on is the fact that the roots of humanity are squarely in Africa.
The earliest humanoids still had a lot in common with the great apes, but they walked more upright and were already a lot balder than their larger relatives. Emerging from their earliest homes, the primitive humans date back to around two million years ago.
This earliest type of human is called Homo ergaster. They were able to make and use tools, which helped to make them far more efficient hunters. Based on their powerful remaining leg bones, it is believed that they were incredible runners, allowing them to chase down animals. Some think that there were likely far more people who were able to run like today’s Olympians than there are today.
Soon after their emergence, these early humans started to leave Africa, branching out across most of Europe and Asia. Some chose to move further south into Africa. As a result, these early humans began to change and evolve.
2. A Small Collection of Humanoids
The term human generally applies to the species homo sapiens, but that could be because there aren’t any other animals quite like us. Roughly 50,000 years ago, we weren’t alone, although there weren’t exactly a wide range of humanoids walking around the planet either.
Depending on which archeologist, anthropologist, or historian you ask, there were between three and nine human species strutting around the globe. Each of them had some unique features and abilities that made survival in different regions easier for them.
The species generally acknowledged are:
- Homo habilis
- Homo erectus
- Homo rudolfensis
- Homo heidelbergensis
- Homo floresiensis
- Homo naledi
- Homo luzonensis
- Homo sapiens
We aren’t going to look at all of these different human species because there is still some debate about many of them. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the most influential types of human species and some that are very different from most other types of humans.
3. Homo Erectus – Moving East
It is thought that the first Homo ergaster to leave Africa continued on to Asia, where the land was far less harsh than on the other continents. These early humans evolved into Homo erectus. It is thought that they moved into modern-day Turkey, then spread out over to the eastern seaboard of China. Although this is a vast amount of area, it is thought that the Homo erectus population did not grow to be particularly large.
Based on the remains of these early eastern humans, they lived in small groups. This was important as they needed to be mobile, following the kinds of wildlife in the area. Homo erectus learned to use tools, but they were still far less dangerous and lethal compared to most of the animals native to Asia.
4. More Specialized Types of Humans
Homo erectus largely lived in the more temperate regions, not really moving into the colder northern areas of Asia. However, they did move south, taking up residence on the many islands to the south.
Obviously, they weren’t too different from humans today – most of us would still love to live on warm beaches.
The first of these more specialized humans is the Homo luzonensis. This species lived around today’s Philippine Islands about 67,000 years ago.
The second is homo floresiensis, also called the Flores man. They have come to be known as hobbits because of their short stature. Living in and around the Indonesian islands, this was the smallest of the human types.
The way that both of these types of humans had more specialized physical traits indicates that they had been evolving in their more specialized regions for more than a million years. This meant that they didn’t have much contact with any other types of humans.
6. The Cold Inclined Neanderthal
Probably the most well-known of the other humans, Neanderthals tended to live in colder climates. Europeans started encountering Neanderthal bones back in the middle of the 19th century. The finding was met with confusion until Charles Darwin started hypothesizing about the evolution of humans. Suddenly, it started to look like Homo sapiens weren’t the only humans, just the only ones that remained.
If you were in a crowd of Homo sapiens and one Neanderthal, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell much of a difference. That is because they really didn’t look that different than we do.
Famously made to look like a cartoonish caveman, Neanderthals did have some features that made them look different, but not nearly so obviously as they are depicted. They did have a wider, more pronounced brow, wider muscles, and a shorter stature. All of these characteristics are what made them so successful in colder climates. Being shorter and more muscular helped them survive against the animals roving the landscape (such as wooly mammoths) and the cold climate. This is similar to the way people who live in more northern parts of the world today tend to be shorter and stouter than those who live in warmer climates.
Evidence also indicates that Neanderthals were at least as intelligent as humans. Coupled with a very similar appearance, there is a good reason why Neanderthals are still well-known today. They are our closest relatives, both figuratively and literally, as we’ll see a little later.
7. It Wasn’t about Brains
For a long time, Homo sapiens have liked to speculate that it was our big brains that allowed us to survive. A lot of people seem to think that Homo sapiens either killed off or drove away other species of humans from their regions.
If that were true, it would be a really horrible legacy. It does not look good for a species to kill off everyone else that is like them.
Nor were Homo sapiens likely any smarter than the species that they encountered. They were the last to leave Africa, meaning that they would have encountered the other types of humans that had evolved as they moved to other locations. Odds are that one of the contributing factors to Homo sapiens surviving was the fact that they look enough like other humans to get help from the other Homo species.
What Homo sapiens did have that gave them an advantage was in their lifestyle, a lifestyle that seems completely unique compared to the other types of humans.
8. It’s about Community
Most of our close relatives did live in communities, just not the varieties of more robust communities that Homo sapiens seemed to be prone to creating. The other human species lived more like apes and other similar ancestors, opting for smaller, more isolated groups.
One of the biggest problems with living in small, largely isolated pockets is that if there is a problem, there is nowhere to turn to for help. By living in communities close to each other, Homo sapiens had support when they needed it. They were able to work together in a way that many of the other Homo species didn’t.
Some have said that care, compassion, compromise, and love are what helped Homo sapiens continue to exist long after the other types of humans died off.
This is a very different reason for our survival instead of the other species. And makes Homo sapiens seem far less diabolical.
8. It’s Also about Genetics
Living in smaller, isolated communities would also very likely result in some more serious health issues. We still have examples of what living in a small, isolated community does to the populations that live there. When you think about small pockets of humans, the biggest problem is inbreeding. This exacerbates existing health issues, and creates new ones.
With less healthy offspring, it would have been harder for a species to survive for thousands of years. Even though there is evidence that the other human species took care of their sick and injured, it would be harder to do in a small community than if there were several communities living close to each other.
9. They Aren’t Entirely Gone
To say that all of the other types of humans are gone isn’t entirely accurate. The different types of humans were able to produce offspring across the species because they were all similar enough that they were able to produce healthy babies. Consider dogs – you can breed a mastiff with a toy poodle, and the result is a healthy dog with unknown characteristics. We weren’t any different.
Homo sapiens were the last group to leave Africa. They lived in clusters instead of single units, and they moved into regions where other types of humans already lived. They were versatile and apparently attracted to those other humans.
As a result, the other types of humans almost all live on in humans today. The most notable is the Neanderthals. Between 1% and 4% of human genetics include those of the Neanderthals, which means that most humans today are not purely Homo sapiens. So, in some ways, we still live with the other types of humans, just in a much different way.