Modern humans are the only extant members of the hominin clade, a branch of great apes characterized by erect posture and bipedal locomotion; manual dexterity and increased tool use; and a general trend toward larger, more complex brains and societies.
Early hominids, such as the australopithecines, whose brains and anatomy are in many ways more similar to non-human apes, are less often thought of or referred to as “human” than hominids of the genus Homo, some of whom used fire, occupied much of Eurasia, and gave rise to anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Africa about 200,000 years ago where they began to exhibit evidence of behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago and migrated in successive waves to occupy all but the smallest, driest, and coldest lands. In the last 100 years, this has extended to permanently operated bases in Antarctica, on offshore platforms, and orbiting the Earth.
The spread of humans and their large and increasing population has profoundly impacted large areas of the environment and millions of native species worldwide. Advantages that explain this evolutionary success include a relatively larger brain with a particularly well-developed neocortex, prefrontal cortex, and temporal lobes, which enable high levels of abstract reasoning, language, problem-solving, sociality, and culture through social learning.
Humans use tools much higher than any other animal, are the only extant species known to build fires and cook their food, and are the only extant species to clothe themselves and create and use numerous other technologies and arts. Humans are uniquely adept at utilizing symbolic communication systems such as language and art for self-expression, exchanging ideas, and organization. Humans create complex social structures of many cooperating and competing groups, from families and kinship networks to states. Social interactions between humans have established various values, social norms, and rituals, forming the basis of human society.
The human desire to understand and influence their environment, and explain and manipulate phenomena, has been the foundation for the development of science, philosophy, mythology, and religion. The scientific study of humans is the discipline of anthropology. Humans began to practice sedentary agriculture about 12,000 years ago, domesticating plants and animals, thus allowing for the growth of civilization. Humans subsequently established various forms of government, religion, and culture worldwide, unifying people within a region and developing states and empires.
The rapid advancement of scientific and medical understanding in the 19th and 20th centuries led to fuel-driven technologies and improved health, causing the human population to rise exponentially. By 2014 the global human population was estimated to be around 7.2 billion.