Why the famous ‘march of human evolution’ illustration is so misleading

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Credit: Michael Caronna/Reuters
Credit: Michael Caronna/Reuters

It’s the diagram of evolution we’re all familiar with – starting with an ape figure which slowly turns into an upright human.

But the famous depiction of the history of man should be ‘expunged from the record of everything’, according to an expert.

Dr Adam Rutherford, a geneticist at University College London, said the diagram portrays ‘wronger things about evolution than anything else’. And he argues it should be removed from biology books.

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Dr Rutherford said the image ‘points to the idea that evolution has a direction… It suggests that there are ape-like ancestors and they begin to walk upright and eventually become us and it goes in a very nice, neat line.

‘This isn’t how evolution works at all. We evolve to occupy whatever environmental niche we’re in at that time…

‘We quite easily in the future could evolve into a completely different shape or go back to being quadrupedal [walking on all fours]. That’s just how evolution works. The idea that evolution ‘improves’ is not correct.’

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