Human Evolution Resources

What does it mean to be human?

Our collection of resources for learning about human origins provides a foundation for exploring the big questions about our species

Our human characteristics are the result of evolutionary history, culture, individual development

Evolution is the change of trait frequencies in a population. This change is the result of interactions between the abiotic, biotic and social environments, behaviors, bodies, brains, technologies, cultures, and genes of organisms. These interactions cause populations to change over time, as new features arise, some features become more common and others become more rare. These interactions therefore shape the evolution and development of our traits and our world.

Different scientists define and study evolution in different ways. Some are primarily interested in the change of genotypes and gene frequencies in a population. Others also look at change in many other things (phenotypes, e.g. behaviors, brains, bodies, social organisation, technologies, culture, and environmental features) in a population (see comparison table in Cultural Evolution). Depending on what we look at, there can be different ways that traits get inherited, transmitted or retained in a population – for example, through the inheritance of genes to offspring, or through imitation of behaviors. There can also be different ways how new variations of traits appear in the population, and different ways through which some traits become more common and others less common in a population.

If we want to understand the evolution of human behaviors and cultures, it makes sense to look at many different phenotypes and their interactions, and consider all of the possible mechanisms of their variation, selection, and inheritance.

Themes in the evolution of human behavior, cognition, and culture

Below you will find links to thematic content pages, each page provides a range of online resources and ideas for teaching activities. We continue to collaborate with students, teachers, and classrooms around the world to curate and develop new ideas for understanding human evolution! Explore the pages below and contact us with questions or ideas for further resource development.

Here you find a collection of various teaching materials (worksheets, handouts, lesson plans etc.) for exploring the evolution of human traits. 

Worksheet: Natural selection of upright walking

A worksheet in which students calculate and graph the changes in the frequencies of traits related to upright walking in a population over several generations, exploring the role of variation, fitness consequences and trait inheritance in evolutionary change.

Worksheet: Natural selection of traits for cooperative foraging

A worksheet in which students calculate and graph the changes in the frequencies of traits related to cooperative foraging in a population over several generations, exploring the role of variation, fitness consequences and trait inheritance in evolutionary change.

Stone Age Hunting Game

A cooperation game that simulates the challenge of our stone age ancestors to acquire food in the African savanna

Video questions: Breeding foxes and social temperament

This video is about domestication – or “taming by breeding” – of foxes, a Russian research project that has been conducted since the 1950s. It shows which behavioral patterns of foxes were selected during breeding, what was found out about the genetic makeup underlying these patterns of behavior and to what extent fox breeding is comparable to the breeding of dogs.

Causes of our moral intuitions

In this lesson students explore the causes of our moral intuitions with the help of a sorting activity and reflection questions.

Lost explorers

Stories of lost explorers that tell us about the importance of cultural knowledge to our survival.

Cultural evolution (lesson plan)

Students explore the concept of cultural evolution by comparing it to genetic evolution based on a number of concepts, and explore why cultural evolution is so important in our species.

Mismatch? (lesson plan)

Students learn about the concept of evolutionary mismatch and apply it to various problems of sustainable development.

Values domains sorting activity

This activity lets students explore the six different values domains by considering why we humans might have evolved to find these areas of life meaningful and important, and what kinds of different things we can do to live towards these valued domains.

Partner projects with relevant resources

Ancient Ancestors

AncientAncestors develops inquiry-based educational labs on human evolution and studies their impact on students’ knowledge acquisition.

The original German EvoKids project. Knowledge of evolution is of central importance for the modern worldview. Therefore, children should learn as early as possible how the different forms of life on earth have developed. For this reason, the “Evokids” project is committed to ensuring that the important topic of “evolution” is not only taught in the 10th grade – as has been the case up to now – but already in elementary school.

Human Evolution Teaching Materials Project

The Human Evolution Teaching Materials Project (HETMP) provides resources for middle and high school educators to facilitate the inclusion of human evolution into existing science curricula. HETMP was designed to help teachers generate 3D models of hominin fossil crania and provide accompanying lesson plans, increasing access to
‘hands-on’ learning materials.

What Kind of Mind?

‘What Kind of Mind?’ provides teaching resources to introduce pupils to research ideas about animal minds.