Though primates only constitute a small subgroup within the mammals, they are vitally important to humans: we are ourselves primates and are closely related to the great apes. Humans are the only primates that attained a global distribution. Most other primate species are restricted to the tropics, and the number of species is highest in tropical forests.

Primates can be classified into three groups:

  • Prosimians may at first glance hardly be recognised as primates. Often with an elongate snout, a rather small brain, and a pronounced sense of smell, they still retain numerous primitive characteristics. However, the three prosimian groups – the Loris-relatives of Africa and Asia, the lemurs of Madagascar, and the tarsiers – are only distantly related to each other and do not represent a distinct evolutionary group.
  • Monkeys have larger brains and excellent eyesight. Old World monkeys of Africa and Asia and New World monkeys of South America have been separated geographically and evolutionarily for millions of years. They independently evolved many similarities.
  • Great apes include only a few species, and are restricted to the Old World. These include gibbons ("small apes“) and orangutans in Asia, gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos in Africa, and of course the ubiquitous humans.

Comparison of gorilla and human skeletons reveals the similarities and differences in their anatomy. We illustrate general trends in human evolution, starting with a reconstruction of “Lucy“ - still considered to be one of the most spectacular discoveries of human evolutionary history. Several Australopithecus species are also part of the exhibition as well as the Homo erectus species complex, the Neandertal, and Homo sapiens – the species to which modern humans belong, which originated in Africa and settled in Europe only a few tens of thousands of years ago. Important findings from Baden-Württemberg are also included, namely "Mauer 1“, a lower jaw of Homo heidelbergensis, and the Steinheim skull.


Horsfield's tarsier

Skulls of marsupial and placental mammals

„Lucy“ – Australopithecus afarensis


Gelada (Gelada baboon)