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Hominid Cranial Comparison: The "Skulls" Lab (Grades 9-12)

Author/Source: ENSI (via Understanding Evolution)

Overview: Students describe, measure and compare cranial casts from contemporary apes (chimpanzees and gorillas, typically), modern humans and fossil "hominins" (erect and bipedal forms evolutionarily separated from apes).The purpose of the activity is for students to discover for themselves what some of the similarities and differences are that exist between these forms, and to see the pattern of the gradual accumulation of traits over time, leading to modern humans.

Principle Concept: Documenting similarities and differences between species is fundamental to understanding their biological and evolutionary relationships.

Associated Concepts: 

  • When used in conjunction with certain other lessons (see extensions below), illustrates the compelling power of multiple independent lines of evidence as a tool for selecting the "best explanation" in the process of science.
  • Transitional forms in an evolutionary sequence are generally mosaic; some traits evolve more rapidly than others.
  • Modern humans have not evolved from modern apes: both have evolved from a common ancestor.
Grade Level: 9-12
Time: One to two class periods
Teaching Tips: Casts of skulls are necessary; however, the lesson also provides a collection of hominoid photos to accomodate a greater number of measurements. The author provides an excellent list of discussion questions.
Resource Type: 
Lesson plan

It's All in Your Head: An Investigation of Human Ancestry: Grades 9-12

Students describe, measure and compare cranial casts from contemporary apes, modern humans, and fossil hominids to discover some of the similarities and differences between these forms and to see the pattern leading to modern humans.