The Stone Age is a period of history that started more than 2 million years ago and lasted until about 5,000 years ago. It’s called the Stone Age because the ape-like people, known as ‘hominins’, who lived at that time used stone materials to make tools and weapons.
But my 5-year-old wants to know where Stone Age people came from. So let’s find out more about our ancestors and human evolution…
Human evolution was a topic of conversation at the dinner table. My 9-year-old declared that “humans used to be monkeys a long, long time ago”; my 4-year-old worried that she might have monkey children when she grows up.
I explained, as in my answer to Why do monkeys still exist?, that humans have evolved over millions of years, and that monkeys and apes and all other creatures have evolved over millions of years too. I showed her a book called The Story of Life and said that, like other animals, humans have evolved over a long, long time.
She didn’t like the thought of being an animal, so we had a think about what being an animal means…
What makes you you and what makes me me? What makes us different and what makes us the same? And why are we human beings, not cats or bees or plants or mushrooms or germs?
The answer to these questions is chemistry – a special kind of chemistry that allows life to exist on Earth…
My three-year-old loves imagination play. Her favourite activity is creating stories and role playing with little figures. Sometimes she invites me or her sister to play along, but she gets frustrated if we don’t do it right. A few days ago, when I was clearly playing the game all wrong, she looked at me and sighed and asked “Can you see my imagination, Mummy?”
Unfortunately, I can’t. All I can do is watch as she turns imagination into reality through a game. But her question got me thinking: what is imagination? And how did our brains develop to allow us to be so creative?
Humans like you and me (from the species Homo sapiens) are thought to come from a group of people that lived in Africa between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. Fossils have helped scientists to work out when Homo sapiens first evolved from other human-like species and how they travelled across the world. But where did the first modern humans live and who had the first idea to build a house?
Grasses are a family of plants that includes cereals, bamboo and the short green stuff that makes up garden lawns. They grow all across the world. But what is it about grasses that helps them to grow in so many different habitats?
Cows have been farmed by humans for thousands of years. They provide meat for us to eat and milk that we can drink. We also use cow hide (skin and fur) to make clothes, shoes and shelters, and we use their dung (poo) as manure to make soil better for growing crops!
But which came first – the cow or the farm?
“If humans evolved from monkeys, why do they still exist?” asked one of the children at my daughter’s school. It’s a great question about the theory of evolution and how there came to be so many different types of creatures on Earth.
There are many different forms of life on Earth – from bacteria and fungi, to plants and animals.
Evolution is a theory that explains how there came to be so many different types of living thing on Earth. It describes the gradual changes that happen when creatures reproduce in combination with changes to the places in which they live.
My 5-year-old wants to know why there are no unicorns in the world. Unicorns are her favourite imaginary creatures and she would very much like to have one as a pet!
I wondered whether there are any animals with one horn? Well, the narwhal is a small arctic whale with one long, spirally-twisted tusk. And there are some creatures with the word ‘unicorn’ in their name, like the unicorn fish and the unicorn beetle.
But these are not the right kind of unicorn – my daughter wants a horse-like creature with a long, tapering horn coming out of its forehead and large, feathered wings.
This question about how and why creatures names are chosen started with my 5-year-old’s observation that not all ladybirds are female…
Scientists use a special naming system to identify and group together all living and extinct creatures. This system is called ‘taxonomy’ and it uses a set of rules to make sure that every different type of creature has a unique name.