The path from ape to modern human is not a linear one. Hannah Devlin looks at what we know – and what might be next for our species

Let’s go back to the beginning. When did we and our ape cousins part ways?
Scientists are still working on an exact date – or even a date to within a million years. Like many of the big questions in human evolution, the answer itself has evolved over the past few decades as new discoveries, techniques and technology have provided fresh insights.

Genetics has proved one of the most powerful tools for time-stamping the split with our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. When our complete genomes were compared in 2005, the two species were found to share 98% of their DNA. The differences hold important clues to how long our lineages have been diverging. By estimating the rate at which new genetic mutations are acquired over generations, scientists can use the genetic differences as a “molecular clock” to give a rough idea of when the split occurred. Most calculations suggest it was between four to eight million years ago.

We share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees. We share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees. Illustration: Getty, Guardian Design Team

This time window is more recent than was originally thought.

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Source: Tracing the tangled tracks of humankind’s evolutionary journey | News | The Guardian

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