Meet the Family: Hominidae

Humans did not evolve from monkeys.

Humans did share a common ancestor with chimpanzees some six million years ago.

We are in fact all related, using the analogy of a family tree (see also: phylogenetic tree, cladograms, or the interactive tree of life) can help us understand how we all fit together. In fact, our nearest living evolutionary relatives are the Great Apes, in the Family Hominidae. Family refers to the taxonomic unit, which is larger than genus, which is larger than species. Monkeys are primates (order), like apes, but they form a different family than us, Family Cebidae. So while we share some traits with monkeys, like riding (Ross), our common ancestor is considerably further back in time, perhaps twenty-five million years ago (Stephens).

Linnaean Classification whole

Human Taxonomy:
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primate
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Homo
Species: Sapiens

Humans stand alone in the genus Homo, as all of the other members have gone extinct or been absorbed into our species. For example, Neanderthals are no longer a distinct species, though their genes live on in every human with non-African ancestry (Ko). Admixing (or interbreeding) to produce fertile offspring was possible between humans and Neanderthals because we shared a common ancestor within two million years (Trinkhaus).

family hominidae diagram


It is important to understand that non-human primates, within the Family Hominidae, are not our ancestors. They are our cousins. Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives and they retain traits of our common ancestor, including body hair, foot morphology, and infant size which allows them to carry their infants safely and energetically efficiently without the assistance of a tool. By tracing back in our evolution to when those three traits became more human-like than chimp-like, I can determine when the infant carrier was most likely invented.


Ko, Kwang Hyun. “Hominin interbreeding and the evolution of human variation. Journal of Biological Research-Thessaloniki (2016) 23:17

Ross, Caroline. “Park or Ride? Evolution of Infant Carrying in Primates.” International Journal of Primatology 22.5 (2001): 749-71. Springer.

Stevens, Nancy, et al. “Palaeontological evidence for an Oligocene divergence between Old World monkeys and apes.” Nature 497, 611–614 (30 May 2013).

Trinkaus, Erik. “European early modern humans and the fate of the Neandertals.” PNAS 104:18, 7367–7372 (May 1, 2007).


One thought on “Meet the Family: Hominidae

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s