Sunday, September 30, 2012

10 More Unusual Trees

by Caleb Compton

A list was published last year titled, “Top 10 Unusual Trees” and although it was a great list, I thought there were some truly bizarre trees that could have been included. That is why I decided to forge this list detailing 10 more unusual/bizarre trees from around the world. Enjoy.

Bottle Tree Fs

Location: Namibia

The Bottle tree of Namibia is one of the most deadly trees on Earth. The milky sap of the plant is very poisonous and was used as arrow poison by bushmen in the past. The Bottle tree is so-called due to the shape of its stem and it usually grows in mountainous regions, which gives it a striking appearance in the deserts of Namibia. The Bottle tree’s flowers have been described as ‘beautiful’ and they are usually pink or white and dark red towards the center.

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Location: USA

The Wawona tree was a Coast Redwood that was located in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park in the USA and had been made into a tunnel. The tree was cut through in 1881, and since then, it became a popular tourist attraction. The Wawona tree fell in 1969 due to a large build-up of snow on the top. The redwood is estimated to have been 2,300 years old.

Teapot Baobab

Location: Madagascar

These magnificent trees, which are endemic to Madagascar are over 1000 years old. This type of Baobab in an endangered species. Many of the trees are over 80m tall and the trunks can get to 25m in circumference. The swollen trunks of the trees provide the source of water and supply it in the drought season. When in bloom, the baobab flowers only last for 24 hours. These flowers feature on the Madagascan 100 Franc banknote.


Silk Cotton Trees of Ta Prohm


Location: Cambodia

These trees are truly extraordinary to see and this is a definite place to visit if you are traveling through South-East Asia. The trees are the most distinctive feature of the temple of Ta Prohm. The roots of the silk-cotton trees tangle around the ancient temple and the trees rise to an impressive height. Strangler fig trees also inhabit the temple and are also fascinating. The temple features on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Height Comparisons Web

Location: California

Hyperion is a coast redwood or California redwood and is the tallest tree on Earth. The trees usually live for around 1200-1800 years. Hyperion is 115.5 meters tall and almost 9 meters in diameter. This means that Hyperion is 5 stories taller than the Statue of Liberty. It is estimated that 95% or more of the original coast redwood trees have been cut down and now the conservation status of the giant trees is ‘vulnerable.’


Location: Costa Rica & Nicaragua

This tree is native to Central and South America, although it is primarily found in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The Pejibaye palm is armed with stiff, black spikes that arrange themselves in circular rows from the base to the top of the tree. These tend to grow to around 20 meters. The leaves can grow up to 3 meters long. Native Americans usually ate the fruit after fermenting it and was a major part of their diet. Today, the fermented fruit is still very popular.


Crooked Forest of Gryfino

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Location: Poland

There are about 400 of these strange trees near Gryfino, West Poland. It is thought that they have curved due to human mechanical intervention, although the purpose of the trees are unknown. Some have speculated that they were intended for making bent-wood furniture, the ribs for boat hulls or yokes for ox-drawn plows. However, the outbreak of WW2 caused whoever grew the trees to stop and now the trees are a mystery.


Location: South Africa

The Sunland boabab is a tree near Modjadjiskloof, Limpopo Province, South Africa, which has been made into a bar. The tree is naturally hollow and in 1933, a small bar was set up which can hold 15-20 people. It is one of the tallest baobabs in South Africa and is apparently the widest tree in the whole of Africa. The tree is around 47 meters in circumference and about 20 meters tall. It is also one of the oldest trees in the world dating back more than 6000 years!


Location: Canada

The Burmis tree is a limber pine situated near Alberta, Canada. The tree is unusual in the fact that it died in the 1970s and is still standing today without any sign of rotting. The tree was estimated to be around 600-750 years-old when it died. The tree was knocked down by wind in 1998 and the locals propped it back up. A few years later, vandals broke one of the branches and the locals once again came to the rescue, fixing the branch back on. The Burmis tree is supposedly one of the most photographed trees in the world.


Location: Bahrain

This tree is approximately 400 years old and 9.75 meters high. The tree is unusual as it is situated in the desert and is the only tree growing for miles around and there is no clear water supply. The Prosopis cineraria or mesquite tree has extremely deep root systems which is believed to be the way it reaches water, although the tree still remains a mystery. If you search for the Tree of Life on Google Earth, you can see how remote it is. The tree is a major tourist attraction and 50,000 people visit it each year. Local inhabitants believe that this was the actual location of the Garden of Eden. This tree is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Top 10 Famous Londoners

by super_clive

This year has celebrated the great old city of London more than any other. The major criterion to earn a place on this list was to be born within a Borough of London. As a result many famous people who have been associated with the city due to their work or life (such as Churchill or Dickens) have not made it. There is also an eclectic mix of people from politicians to musicians to writers. This was to ensure that no area of interest monopolized the list. Such are the numerous contenders for a place in the top 10 – a second list may well follow…


Daniel Day Lewis

Famous for Acting


Born: Greenwich, Borough of Greenwich, South-East London, 1957.

One of the most celebrated actors of his generation, Day-Lewis was born into an Irish family in South London in 1957. He is part of a very select group of actors who have won two Academy Awards for male in a leading role – for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007). His portrayal as oil prospector Daniel Plainview in the latter will go down as one of the most menacing performances in recent cinema, similar to his celebrated depiction of Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002), which also brought him a nomination for Best Actor at the Oscar’s that year. Daniel Day-Lewis is also one of the most ‘selective’ actors in Hollywood, having only starred in five movies since 1997. His forthcoming portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s epic ‘Lincoln,’ is one of the most anticipated releases in recent cinema history.

‘I do know where I come from. I particularly miss south-east London – the front lines of Deptford and Lewisham and New Cross and Charlton – because that’s my patch. But maybe I have a rather sentimental relationship to it. The sort that exiles tend to have.’ (Time Out Magazine, 2008)

Other famous acting Londoners: Gary Oldman, Christopher Lee.


Michael Faraday

Famous for Science


Born: Newington Butts, Borough of Southwark, South London, 1791.

Faraday can rightly lay claim to be one of the most famous scientists of modern times. Often referred to as being the man who ‘invented’ electricity, Faraday was the first person to discover electromagnetic induction in 1831, the principle behind the electric transformer and generator. The BBC website claims this discovery ‘was crucial in allowing electricity to be transformed from a curiosity into a powerful new technology.’ He is also famous enough to appear on the back of British £20 notes.

Other famous London scientists: Sir William Crookes, Brian Pippard.


John Keats

Famous for Poetry


Born: Moorgate, The City of London, 1795.

Known as the ‘Cockney’ poet, John Keats is one of the most championed of the second generation Romantics along with his contemporaries Shelley and Byron. Like William Shakespeare, most English people first come to know of Keats at school where his works are still a fundamental part of the British secondary school curriculum – which in part has led to him becoming one of the most analyzed poets in English Literature. Like many great artists through history in differing fields, Keats gained most notoriety for his works posthumously. His sensual imagery employed in most of his odes are superlative, such as in ‘Ode to Autumn,’ where it would be hard to argue that there has been a better depiction of the season of Autumn and everything Autumnal written in the English language. There are currently several ‘Keats London walks’ that tourists can experience which take in his birthplace in Moorgate to his monument outside Guys Hospital in London Bridge.

Other famous London poets: John Milton, Lord Byron.


David Beckham

Famous for Football (soccer)


Born: Leytonstone, Borough of Waltham Forest, East London, 1975.

David Beckham has become a true British icon of the 21st century, and is arguably the most famous Londoner alive today. As a huge promoter of the London Olympics throughout the world it was a massive shock to many Team GB supporters when he was omitted from Stuart Pearce’s squad for the games. Although since gaining notoriety through fashion and modeling, ‘Becks’ is still most famous as a football player, captaining his country on 58 occasions and playing in three World Cups. His most celebrated moment on the field came in the 1999 Champions League final when his man of the match performance helped Manchester United defeated Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp Barcelona in one of football’s most dramatic finishes.

“I was born in Leytonstone in Waltham Forest, one of the host boroughs for the London Olympics, and I played football on Hackney Marshes as a kid, so I’m very keen to support the 2012 bid.” (The Telegraph, 2004)

Other famous football playing Londoners: Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves.


David Bowie

Famous for Popular Music


Born: Brixton, Borough of Lambeth, South London, 1947.

Although Bowie recently turned down an opportunity to perform at the Olympic Closing ceremony (where his decision was due to his reluctance to play live generally, than any political decision), Bowie has had a life-long association with the city. Born and raised in one of London’s multicultural centers, Brixton, in South London, Bowie has earned a reputation as one of pop music’s most influential artists of the twentieth century, mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles, Dylan and the Stones. He also used Heddon Street in Central London for his cover of the seminal ‘Ziggy Stardust’ album in 1972.

‘Bright lights, Soho, Wardour street

You hope you make friends with the guys that you meet

Somebody shows you round

Now you’ve met the London boys

Things seem good again, someone cares about you.’ (London Boys, 1967)

Other famous London pop stars: Amy Winehouse, Elton John.


Clement Attlee

Famous for being Prime Minister


Born: Putney, Borough of Wandsworth, South-West London, 1883.

Of all the famous Prime Ministers throughout British History, Attlee has had perhaps the greatest impact upon the state and yet remains one of the least well known. Following the Second World War, Winston Churchill was expected to cement his place as PM in the 1945 elections following his unerring leadership of the country through its ‘finest hour,’ but he was defeated in a landslide by Attlee’s Labour Party, and for one epoch defining reason: The National Health Service. As part of the postwar construction Attlee’s government truly created a ‘welfare state,’ nationalizing major industries and most importantly creating a free health service for the nation, one that still stands and is renowned (though not necessarily championed) the world over. He was also a major advocate of Keynsian economic policy, with the aim of achieving full employment, which remained a central theory of all British governments until the Thatcher governments of the 1970s.

Other famous London Prime Ministers: Harold Macmillan.


Queen Victoria

Famous for being the Monarch


Born: Kensington Palace, Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, South-West London, 1819.

So it’s fair to say that most Kings and Queens of England could have laid claim to be on this list, so I decided to include the monarch that has overseen arguably the greatest transformation of the city into the modern day metropolis that stands today. Put simply, Victoria’s reign in the 19th century saw Britain reap the benefits of the Industrial Revolution to see the country develop the largest empire in history at its height, with the city of London firmly at its center. For approximately a century from the beginning of Victoria’s rule (1830s) to just after World War One, London was the largest city in the world.

Other famous London Monarchs: Henry VIII, Elizabeth I.


Alfred Hitchcock

Famous for Film Directing


Born: Leytonstone, Borough of Waltham Forest, East London, 1899.

One of cinema’s great directors, Hitchcock was a pioneer in the suspense and thriller genres, developing techniques that are now fundamental elements in many horror movies. In 2002 the American magazine MovieMaker named him the most influential filmmaker of all time. He enjoyed almost unrivaled success in the 1950s and 1960s with films such as ‘Vertigo,’ ‘North by Northwest’ and ‘Psycho,’ which have since become cinema classics. Hitchcock location walks through the streets of London are now thriving which take in areas used in films such as ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much.’

Other Famous London Film Directors: Michael Winner, David Lean.


Charlie Chaplin

Famous for Acting/Directing


Born: Walworth, Borough of Southwark, South-East London, 1889.

The icon of Hollywood’s golden age of the early twentieth century, Charlie Chaplin one of the most famous stars in cinema history. Beginning with silent movie acting eventually moving into acting and directing ‘talkies,’ Chaplin was arguably the most famous celebrity in the world in the years between both World Wars. Born into a gypsy family in a street that houses one of South London’s busiest markets, Chaplin developed his famous slapstick routines on the London Vaudeville circuit. Famed for his wonderful comic performances, notably in ‘The Tramp,’ Chaplin was also capable of producing truly mesmeric portrayals of drama, such as his spine-tingling monologue denouncing Fascism at the culmination of ‘The Great Dictator,’ the ultimate depiction of satire on film, at a time when Western Europe was at the mercy of Hitler’s Nazis (at the time Hitler was an avid fan of Chaplin, owning all of his movies on film reel).


Samuel Pepys

Famous for being a Londoner

Samuel Pepys 700

Born: Fleet Street, City of London, 1633.

It could be justifiably argued that no other person has contributed to our knowledge of 17th century London than Samuel Pepys. With his exquisitely kept diaries, Pepys recorded in particular three major British historical events that he was present to witness: The Great Plague, The Great Fire and The Second Anglo-Dutch War. As a naval administrator he was also present at the execution of King Charles I in the aftermath of the English Civil War. As well as these important eye witness accounts, Samuel Pepys’ diaries have helped us understand 17th century London society more than any other historical source. So for his impact upon the historical legacy of this great city, Samuel Pepys has earned my top spot!

“Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire: rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavoring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City; and every thing, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs.— lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, an there burned till it fell down.” (Samuel Pepys Diary, 2nd September 1666)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Top 10 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

Top 10 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

Learning a second language can be fun as well as challenging. And most people want to learn one for different reasons. Some people do it for self-gratification while others do it to better adapt to their cultural surroundings. Whatever their reason may be, there are specific ways to go about doing it. Below, we are going to show you the top 10 tips for learning a foreign language.

10. Don’t Strive for Perfection

First and foremost, realize that perfection is an illusion. As bad as you want to “perfect” a language, realize that it is going to take time. You may learn a phrase or two one day and then forget it the next. That’s okay. You should expect mistakes as this is part of the language learning process. Look towards mistakes as a form of feedback: you are only getting better with every mistake that you make.

9. Develop an “Ear” for that Language

With whatever language you’re learning, try to develop an “ear” for it. Basically, this means that you are really listening to what your training program or teacher is saying. Realize that most of our language learning as children had to do with “listening” to what others said and then repeating it. We had very little involvement in reading or writing until we got older. Take this mindset and apply it towards whatever language you’re trying to learn. On the same note, watch television or movies in what language as well.

8. Practice Speaking

While this may sound obvious, the truth is that speaking your new language will reinforce what you already know. Some people study for years, learn all of the grammar, but are very poor when it comes to pronouncing words. Just remember, when you are speaking, try to use a normal conversational tone. You can even do this without other people. Simply stand in front of the mirror and pretend as though you’re speaking to someone else. This can make all the difference in the world in terms of your progress in this department.

7. Be Consistent

Like with any new skill that you are trying to acquire, consistence is key when learning a new language. Do realize that there will be moments when you feel as though you aren’t learning anything. This is the time when you want to stay committed. Language learning is something that takes time. On the same note, keep your training sessions relatively consistent as well. For example, if you have been training for at least 20 minutes every day then you should continue this process. If something is working then there is no sense in changing it.

6. Talk to Yourself

As odd as it may sound, try talking to yourself on occasion. For example, start by saying “Hello” (in your new language) and answer back with “Hi, how are you”. You can continue the conversation for as long as you want. Just make sure that you are pushing yourself and trying to use as many words as you can. The reason this works is because since there is nobody around you, there won’t be any inhibitions that will cause you to forget or act differently.

5. Use Flashcards

Flashcards are probably one of the best methods that you can use to learn any new language. You should begin by carrying a pack with you and writing down every word or phrase that you’re having trouble with. And the reason we say carry them with you is because then you can practice in areas where your time would otherwise be “wasted”. For example, if you are riding the bus or waiting for class to start, you can pull out your flashcards and take that time to be productive and learn your new language.

4. Label Your Surroundings

For whatever item you have in your house, label it with its respective name but in the foreign language. For example, if you have a wall then you would label in “La Pared”, assuming that Spanish was the language you were learning. Make sure that you place these labels in bathrooms, kitchen, and even the wash room. You would be surprised by how quickly you pick up random vocabulary by utilizing this method.

3. Patience is Key

Progress with language learning will not be a steady or straight line. Quite the contrary actually- it will have many turns, twists, and curves. Some days it may feel as though you are making huge progress while on other days, it may feel like you’re moving backwards. Realize that things won’t happen as you predict but don’t let this discourage you. If you find yourself “stuck” then try taking a break for a few days before jumping back on board. Above anything, have patience and know that you aren’t getting worse at your new language.

2. Find a Partner

One of the best ways to learn a new language is to practice it with people who are already fluent in it. For example, if you’re trying to learn French then you should be spending time speaking and interacting with people who know French. It will help you absorb more information as well as concrete in what you already know. And finding a partner doesn’t have to be difficult. Begin by checking your social circle and moving outward until you find a partner who can help you.

1. Take Formal Classes

When all else fails, take some formal classes. While they may cost a little bit of money, they can really take your language learning to a whole new level. Language learning classes provide a structured environment that you can utilize to learn any language that you want. There are usually curriculums involved that will help you stay on course and you’ll always have a teacher there to guide you. Not to mention, there will probably be other students there as well. This means that you can take tip number two and ask them to be your practice partner outside of the classroom.

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10 Distant Human Ancestors and Relatives

by Kate Wan

Evolution is rarely direct. It is a meandering process which randomly produces creatures of bizarre forms. It does not consider what the creature’s progeny might become and streamline the process for future efficiency. It moves in all sorts of bizarre, indirect directions before producing the more familiar forms we know today. This is just as true of human evolution as it is of any other animal. We did not evolve via a smooth process from fish to monkeys to apes, but instead took many strange detours along the way. Starting from the moment we emerged onto land, here are some illustrations of these often-forgotten ancestors which together tell a peculiar story of our lineage.

Acanthostega 501C2

About 340 million years ago, something important happened. Some amphibians, who at the time grew larger than today’s giant river salamanders but lived similarly, began to produce amniotic eggs. These were eggs which had thin shells, allowing the embryo to breathe, but still solid enough to contain the water an embryo needs. The early creatures who laid such eggs were immediately successful, as this adaption enabled vertebrates to finally conquer land. The only other animals previously living on land were largely insects, so the amniotes had little resistance as they spread out and diversified into millions of different forms of life. One of the earliest was Casineria, a four-legged creature about the size and shape of a modern salamander, only 15cm long. It ate the insects that were plentiful, having had millions of years to themselves to multiply relentlessly on land. In fact, Casineria probably spent more time avoiding insects than eating them – due to a different air composition back then, insects were able to grow much larger; carnivorous dragonflies sported wingspans of over 70cm. Yet even evading insects five times its size did not hold Casineria back from thriving and ultimately becoming a key ancestor to the largest animals ever to exist on earth.


Edaphosauridae was a family of animals from around 300 million years ago. Edaphosaurs might have resembled dinosaurs, but they and their descendants were synapsids, mammal-like reptiles who diverged from true reptiles 320 million years ago. Edaphosaurids, and their most famous descendants, the Dimetrodons, both resembled large modern lizards with spectacular sails along their backs. The function of these sails is still not understood, but it is thought that they were either used for sexual displays or as a heat radiator, an important step towards evolving the thermo-regulated blood that all mammals have today. Edaphosaurids were about 3m long and were herbivores, eating leafy plants as grass did not evolve until long after they were extinct. Edaphosaurids and other synapsids were the dominant form of life on earth for millions of years until a mass extinction gave dinosaurs the opportunity to replace them.


After Edaphosauridae, Caseidae was the second family of land herbivores. These synapsids existed around 270 million years ago, and were enormous, varying from 1m to 6m long. They typically had small heads and large, bulky bodies. Unusually for synapsids, the case ids had teeth which were almost all the same. Generally, a main distinction between mammals (or synapsids) and other vertebrates is the teeth: mammals have more than one type of specialized tooth in the mouth of each individual, whereas in reptiles, fish, and amphibians, all the teeth are uniform. The enormous Caseids with their unusual teeth had thin, snake-like tails and incredibly stocky short limbs, and could weigh in excess of 2 tons. They resembled komodo dragons with an enormously bloated, barrel-shaped abdomen, making them as tall as an adult human. It is not known if the stocky limbs, with their formidable claws, were as strong as they were so that they could dig for roots, fight potential predators, or if they were strong simply to be able to support their colossal bulk.


This was a group of synapsids from 260 million years ago whose name meant “terrible head.” They were large and had, most distinguishingly, hideous bony protrusions on their heads, thought to be used for sexual displays and fights. These creatures were less like reptiles and more like mammals: they had a fine coat of hair and walked more upright. Some were carnivores and some herbivores, and in general they grew to several meters long. Although they had many forms, they loosely resembled muscular hippopotamuses with delicate hair, large, interlocking teeth, and bizarrely shaped heads. Their distinguishing skulls, with all their terrible horns and bumps, had a larger brain cavity than their ancestors, beginning a trend that continues for mammals to this day: a gradually increasing brain size. Instead of relying on a perfectly adapted body, which of course becomes useless when the environment changes, mammals were beginning to rely instead on large brains with an increased ability to learn and adapt during their lifetime, making them capable of learning to live in a variety of environments rather than just one. This would prove to be mammals’ greatest strength over the next hundreds of millions of years.


Around the time of the caesars, a new subgroup of synapsids developed: therapsids. These were more advanced than their forebears, and had legs which were positioned under their body to hold them up vertically, rather than sticking out sideways to hold them horizontally, like lizards. This enabled the development of more efficient walking rather than crawling. They had much more refined teeth, including for the first time incisors, canines, and molars. They also had the most recognizable mammalian traits: hair and lactation. One key therapsid of 250 million years ago was Pristerognathus. They were forest-dwelling, sleek, carnivorous hunters with large heads and prominent fangs. Although they were about the size of a housecoat, they were incredibly successful, and preyed on the many smaller synapsids of the time. Pristerognathus eventually died out completely in a mass extinction at the end of the Triassic period, which gave dinosaurs the opportunity to replace synapsids as dominant land animals. Nevertheless, the progeny of Pristerognathus survived until the demise of the dinosaurs, when they finally reclaimed their status as the dominant land animal on earth.


After the small Pristerognathus came the larger Cynognathus, a meter-long creature which resembled something of a strange mixture of a crocodile and a wolf. It had a long, reptilian snout which was 30% of its total body length, sporting diverse teeth with large protruding canines. It had a tapering crocodilian tail and sideways, sprawling reptilian forelegs, but it also had a torso with upright hind legs covered fur, like a mammal. Many fossils show that it had whiskers, an important mammal sensory device. Cynognathus existed some 240 million years ago and its fossils are today found worldwide, indicating just how successful and widespread these creatures were. In fact, due to the huge number of fossils, discoverers in various countries were often unaware that it existed elsewhere, and gave it a new name. It has been given an astounding fifteen different names due to this phenomenon, yet all are the same incredibly successful creature.

Saurornitholestes Digging Burrows Wahweap

Extinctions are an important factor in speeding up evolution. Creatures which survive a mass extinction find themselves in a world devoid of many of their previous competitors, and are able to branch out and fill niches previously unattainable. The dinosaurs themselves did this at the expense of the synapsids and therapsids, which were quickly out-competed. The smaller therapsids were able to survive by accentuating their advantages over reptiles, and eked out an existence as rodent-like creatures. Multituberculata were not only around during the time of the dinosaurs, but their mammalian features are considered an important reason why they survived the dinosaurs’ own great extinction. Their diminutive body size meant they had small brains, but these brains were compact and had efficient designs. The multituberculata became more and more intelligent during their time on earth. These creatures were true mammals, and existed for longer than any other mammals in history: 120 million years in total, ending only 35 million years ago. Multituberculata were similar to rodents, and were mostly small, burrowing creatures covered in thick fur. Some lived in trees, as squirrels do today, and still others are thought to have swum. Instead of laying eggs like their ancestors, they gave birth to small, underdeveloped young as modern marsupials do, and fed them with milk from specialized sweat glands. Multituberculata finally starved to extinction when they were out-competed by their own progeny, the rodents.

Plesiadapis 1

Some of the many descendants of Multituberculata had already taken to the trees, and about 55 million years ago, a creature we call Plesiadapis evolved as a distinct genus. It resembled a small, squirrel-like lemur, with a long bushy tail, elongated curved claws for gripping to help it climb, a long muzzle, a flat head, and eyes that faced sideways rather than forwards like ours, giving it only two-dimensional vision. Plesiadapis were adept climbers and are thought to be the ancestors of all primates. Their own ancestors in turn had been carnivorous tree-dwelling squirrel-like creatures, but Plesiadapis were evolving towards omnivority, and had sharp teeth suited to biting and tearing flesh as well as flat molars suitable for chewing leaves. The varied diet of modern primates is one of the main reasons why we evolved color vision, and so Plesiadapis most likely could also see in color. These arboreal creatures gave birth to fully-formed but helpless infants, as most modern mammals do.

Proconsul Africanus

The early primates evolved into many forms, some of which still exist today. About 35 million years ago, a new group arose: the Old World monkeys. From the long curved claws of their ancestors they had evolved flat nails, and instead used dexterous, elongated toes to aid their climbing, making them more adaptable. Due to their lack of a specialized diet, Old World monkeys often do not find themselves wanting for food, and are able to live in large groups. Their survival as a group is largely dependent on group cohesion, so their brain size tends to be proportionate to the size of their social groups. The beautiful fluffy tails of their forebears, preserved in exquisite fossil records, have become limp and are no longer able to be moved much at all, and instead Old World monkeys use them as a counter-weight when balancing. About 30 million years ago, a genus named Proconsul found it more efficient to lose the tails altogether, retaining only a vestigial tailbone, and instead used a larger brain to help balance. Due to limitations in female pelvis size, this meant that the large brain would need to develop at least somewhat outside the womb, leading to a prolonged period of helplessness in infants while their brains acquired more and more information to help them survive. Proconsul gave rise to the first apes.


Apes in general rely more on large and adaptive brains than any specific physical adaptions. As a result, their offspring often take several years to be as capable as an adult, due to the slow but ultimately worthwhile process of learning all they need to know. Mothers spend this time teaching them about how to live in their particular area, and a strong mother-infant bond naturally results. A few of these fossil apes begin to show signs of walking upright. The opening in the skull where the spinal column leaves is at the back in most creatures, but is at the bottom of the skull in bipedal animals like ourselves, due to the posture needed when walking upright. 7 million years ago, a big-brained chimpanzee-like creature called Sahelanthropus showed this exact feature, but otherwise had all the adaptions to arboreal life. Its progeny, the hominids, began to lose their climbing adaptions and ventured out into open plains, accelerating the evolution towards upright walking. Their pelvises, feet, and spines began to resemble ours. Some hominids, like Paranthropus, had bony skull crests for attaching powerful jaw muscles. Others, like Homo erg aster, were lithe and much taller than we are today. These creatures, the hominids, grew brainier and used tools and fire to catch and cook food, making hunting and eating nutritionally more efficient, giving them the energy needed for their brains to grow still larger. We, Homo sapiens, evolved from these strange hominids, and although we don’t possess the largest brain of the hominids, we are the only one remaining today, the most widespread ape on earth.