Genetic Literacy Project
The question of where we humans come from is one many people ask, and the answer is getting more complicated as new evidence is emerging all the time.
For most of recorded history humankind has been placed on a metaphorical, and sometimes literal, pedestal. Sure, modern humans were flesh and blood like other animals. But they were regarded as being so special that in the Linnaean taxonomy that prevailed well into the second half of the 20th century they were given their own family, the Hominidae. This distinguished them from the Pongidae, the separate family used for the three African great apes—the common chimpanzee, bonobo and gorilla—plus the orangutan from Southeast Asia.
We now realise that modern humans are just one of the African great apes. So when and how did this radically changed perception come about?