Human Evolution, Backward and Forward

From Dutch graphic designer Jurian Möller, here’s a striking one-minute video that shows the evolution of humans from the present backwards and then forward again. At the bottom, the video tracks the number of years in the past along with the type of creature shown. The sound track hints at other changes along the way; listen for the chirping birds and the bellowing dinosaurs. And look for the big transitions, from water to land and from four legs to two.

Before I watched this for the first time, I wasn’t sure what I would see, how much of the whole variety of life over the ages would get included in one minute, all our distant cousins—plants, insects, snakes, birds—or just the direct line of our grandparent animals. How many years ago would be considered “our evolution”? 20 million years? 200 million? 2 billion?

See for yourself.

Our basic shape hasn’t changed that much— a head, four appendages, and a back end. The walking/swimming motion throughout the video nicely suggests how our movement triggered much of our evolution.

How long has “our” evolution taken? That depends how you define “us.” Before the 550 million years shown here, it took three billion years—nearly six times as long—for single cells to evolve from simple to complex. Was that part of human evolution? In any event, there were no complex bodies that moved and mated until about the time in the video.

Finally, our forebears in the video blithely walk right through several mass extinctions, not acknowledged in the video, including the largest one 250 million years ago when over 90 percent of species died off. Then and at other times, our steps could have been our last. We were lucky.

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