2014    An overview of human paleontology
  • Our bodies are records of our evolution. Look at an unfolding embryo, a genome, or a skeleton and you will see our inner fishes, our inner mammals, our inner apes. We carry within us physical evidence of the developmental processes and biological traits that humans share with all — yes, all — other organisms. Accordingly, we don't need ancient fossils or artifacts to know that evolution occurs, but without them we would understand far less about all that came before us. Without fossils we would have no way of knowing about speciation and extinction events from the past. We could not have learned about the existence of strange and fascinating creatures like Neanderthals. Although a fossil is only a snapshot of a moment in evolutionary history, if you find enough of them, and if you can link them up through their anatomy, and if you can date them reliably with geological and geochemical methods, you can construct a family tree that explains how organisms that once lived on Earth contributed to the life that inhabits it today.