Homo sapiens is unique on this planet in that we’re the only genus with only one species. It’s not normal to be the only species within a genus! All other animals exist in a world in which there are others very like themselves, but not them.
Humans, by contrast, take it for granted that there are no other species in the world like us.
It didn’t used to be that way, though. We used to share this planet with other people who weren’t us.
- Homo heidelbergensis lived from approximately 600,000 to 100,000 years ago.
- Homo neanderthalensis lived from approximately 350,000 to 30,000 years ago. (Some say only 250,000 years ago, but the most sources agree on 30,000 years as the end date.)
[Note: In a previous post, I listed the origin of homo sapiens as 200,000 years ago. Some sources say it was only 100,000 years ago.]
Consider what these dates mean:
If we accept 200,000 years ago as the origin of homo sapiens:
- For half of our existence, we shared this planet with homo heidelbergensis.
- For 85% of our existence, we shared this planet with homo neanderthalensis.
If we accept 100,000 years ago as the origin of homo sapiens:
- We may still have shared this planet with homo heidelbergensis for some years at the beginning of our existence.
- For 70% of our existence, we shared this planet with homo neanderthalensis.
Now, this doesn’t mean we were face-to-face with Neanderthal the whole time. Homo sapiens didn’t get to Europe – where Neanderthal lived – until approximately 50,000 years ago. But even then, we shared Europe with Neanderthal for 20,000 years. That’s 4x longer than the entirety of our known written record.
When I stated in my previous post on this subject that we only know less than 10% of our own history – consider what it means that within the great unknown span of our existence, we shared this planet with other species of bipedal, tool-using, intelligent hominids. Recognizably people – but people who weren’t us.
How do you think that affects our behavior today, now that we’re alone?