Home Archaeology The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
Archaeology By Joe Burgett -

As we evolved into the human beings we are today, we often forget how crazy it is that we’re here. Our family line somehow survived for us to be born in spite of some incredible odds. There are so many things that could have ended the lives of our ancestors, from wars to horrific diseases. Thus, we shouldn’t forget just how lucky we are to be alive. However, there is a dark side of human evolution that we cannot ignore. Many of us prefer that people overlook our past and judge us by our present-day version. When it comes to ancient civilizations though, we cannot turn a blind eye to some of the terrible things they did.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Artstation -@Thahn Tuan]

How Genghis Khan Changed Carbon Dioxide Levels In The Atmosphere

Hopefully, we all know who Genghis Khan is by now. The 13th-century warlord conquered half the world at one point. Under his leadership, the Mongols enjoyed a lot of success. While Khan was a man who loved conquering, he was also a ruler who allowed people to have freedom of religion. He also allowed them to keep many of their original practices. The Silk Road enjoyed massive success under his banner, leading to several new inventions and medical practices too. However, Khan and his armies were warriors who dominated everywhere they went.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Encyclopedia Britannica]
Anyone who tried to stand up to them was taken out. Sadly, some of the people who stood up to them were farmers and various peasants that worked the land they owned or those owned by a local rich person. Khan’s army killed up to 40 million people, and with no one left to work the land peasants once did, they grew back up. That allowed trees and other plants to grow in their place. Carbon-absorbing forests became so efficient that they wiped out over 700 million metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere. This is roughly the same amount generated per year from global oil/gas/petrol consumption today. Just think about that for a minute!

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
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Wars & Violent Conflicts

Speaking of warriors, our ancestors regularly engaged in warfare with neighboring groups. This type of issue goes all the way back to the Neanderthal and Denisovan line of humans. We’ve been able to prove that too. Archeologists managed to uncover a person from 430,000 years ago that appears to have been murdered. This is right around the time of those two versions of the Homo Erectus line of humans. Our ancestors were usually always involved in some form of social group, even if it was on the smaller side. As this grew into small to medium-sized tribes, others would likely pop up nearby.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via The Guardian]
One striking discovery comes from a site known as Shanidar Cave in present-day Iraq. Excavations conducted in the 1950s and 1960s revealed the remains of several Neanderthals, including one individual known as Shanidar 3. The skeleton of Shanidar 3 showed signs of severe injuries, including a crushed skull and a partially amputated arm. These injuries were not accidental but were likely caused by violence inflicted upon the individual. The reasons behind these ancient conflicts are not entirely clear. Some theories propose that competition for resources, such as food and territory, could have been a driving force. Others suggest that conflicts may have been related to social dynamics, group identity, or even intergroup competition for mates. Sadly, modern day humans have these conflicts woven into their DNA.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Welburnstuart/Shutterstock.com]

The Implementation Of Torture

Some still believe torture is a useful tool to get information out of someone. However, humans have gotten wise to this concept. While people used to tell someone whatever they wanted to know to stop the pain, others lied. This meant people realized the best way to get to someone was not by hurting them but by threatening those the person loves. You’d be surprised how many torture methods were used over the last few thousand years. Some of the most famous includes “the rack,” which was used to stretch a person out, often resulting in complete dislocations of the anatomy.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Gail Johnson/Shutterstock.com]
Throughout history, various societies and regimes have employed torture as a means of punishment, extracting information, or asserting power and control. One of the most symbolic torture methods would be, unsurprisingly, crucifixion. The method involved nailing or binding the individual to a cross, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to intense physical agony, as well as public humiliation and shame. Crucifixion served as a brutal deterrent, instilling fear in others and serving as a stark reminder of the consequences of challenging or defying the ruling powers of the time.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[History On The Net]

Human Sacrifice

You’d be shocked to find out how often human sacrifice happened in numerous cultures, and even how long it lasted. Of course, if you’ve taken any history class ever, it is likely you know some of the most notable sacrifices. In the Middle East, people used to sacrifice animals on a regular basis. Sometimes, it would be done daily while others would do this every week or every month. Some might sacrifice fruits or vegetables. All of this was usually done for a local God or Goddess. On occasion, Oracles would be given sacrifices as well as monarchs. However, human sacrifice was more common in the Middle Eastern nations several thousands of years ago.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
Yet, delving deeper into the annals of ancient history, a haunting truth emerges: human sacrifice etched an indelible mark on the distant past. Millennia ago, these lands bore witness to a more chilling form of offering, where human lives were surrendered in solemn rites. The reasons behind these human sacrifices were as varied as the cultures themselves, ranging from appeasing wrathful deities to ensuring bountiful harvests or bestowing divine favor upon the ruling elite. The most prominent cultures that utilized human sacrifice regularly were the Mayan, Aztec, and Incan Empires. This was also the case sometimes with Hawaiian cultures. Of course, this is where people were sacrificed to “Volcano Gods.” Whether they were executed on the volcano or thrown in, they were still sacrificed. The dark side of human evolution here is that many were actually children, often female. If Volcanoes erupted anyway, sometimes sacrifices of humans would increase too.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Reuters]


Polygamy, the practice of having multiple spouses, has indeed left a complex and controversial imprint on human evolution, often revealing a dark chapter in our history. Throughout the ages, various societies and civilizations have embraced polygamy, leading to profound social, psychological, and even biological consequences. Historically, polygamy has been intertwined with power dynamics and inequality, particularly in patriarchal societies. It often resulted in the concentration of power and resources in the hands of a few, leaving many individuals marginalized and disadvantaged. Ancient civilizations like ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Rome, as well as certain Native American tribes, witnessed the institutionalization of polygamy, creating a hierarchical structure where a select few held significant influence and control. This concentration of power often resulted in the subjugation and mistreatment of women, who were treated as property and denied agency and autonomy.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Ron Batzdorff/ShowTime]
Moreover, polygamy has had far-reaching implications for human evolution, shaping social structures and genetic diversity. By allowing some individuals to have multiple partners, polygamy inherently limited the reproductive opportunities of others, particularly men who were unable to acquire multiple mates. This led to increased competition, social unrest, and even violence among males vying for limited reproductive resources. In turn, such dynamics impacted the genetic composition of populations, potentially contributing to the perpetuation of certain traits, both beneficial and detrimental, through generations.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Ubisoft]

Humanity’s Impact On The Environment

While Genghis Khan might have helped the environment a bit through his deadly tactics, humanity hurt it more. Of course, our impact on the environment is not just the present-day toxins we put in the air from driving, using lawnmowers, etc. We have been hurting the environment for a much longer period of time. We can go back to the Industrial Revolution in Europe, which would eventually make its way to the United States. During this time of great invention and even economic prosperity for several, we saw factories put a ton of horrible junk into the atmosphere. We did not realize how much of an impact we were making at the time sadly.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock.com]
However, when we did realize this through scientific findings, the rich tried to suppress the information. Obviously, before this, our impact on the environment also led to mass extinctions of animal and plant species. One major dark side of human evolution was that we used our power and capabilities to often hunt down and end the lives of several species. This is what led to the extinction of the Dodo Bird, Moa, and even the Tasmanian Tiger. Not to mention the poaching issues that led to the extinction of the White Rhinoceros. Extinctions also occurred as we built and expanded our cities, taking away potential homes for animals to live in.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com]

The Love Of Burning People Alive For Assumed Nonsense

The utilization of fire as a means to burn people alive stands as a haunting and deeply troubling chapter in the trajectory of human evolution. This abhorrent practice epitomizes the depths of human cruelty and represents a profound departure from our inherent capacity for compassion and empathy. The deliberate act of subjecting individuals to the agonizing torment of being consumed by flames signifies a harrowing disregard for human life and a chilling manifestation of power and dominance. The stark reality that societies and cultures sanctioned such heinous acts as a form of punishment or spectacle reveals the dark underbelly of our collective history, forcing us to confront the terrifying depths to which humanity can descend when guided by the forces of ignorance, fear, and unbridled brutality.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via David Tadevosian/Shutterstock.com]
Burning someone alive goes outside of the bounds of justice. This was a brutal and seemingly personal way to end a threat. One of the most notable instances of this in history would be the witch trials. They were prevalent and misguided practices in both Europe and North America. The witch trials serve as a haunting testament to a dark chapter in human evolution, marked by mass hysteria, fear, and the persecution of innocent individuals. These tragic events reflect a distressing combination of superstition, religious fervor, and societal anxieties that resulted in the wrongful accusation, torture, and execution of countless men and women, leaving an indelible stain on our collective history.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[National Geographic]

Colonialism & Imperialism

Colonialism and imperialism represent a dark and troubling aspect of human evolution, characterized by the domination, exploitation, and subjugation of indigenous populations by powerful nations. From the 15th to the 20th centuries, European powers, such as Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal, embarked on ambitious ventures to establish colonies and expand their empires. These ventures brought devastating consequences for indigenous peoples around the world. Historic examples abound, illustrating the grim realities of colonialism. The transatlantic slave trade, fueled by European powers, forcibly transported millions of African men, women, and children to the Americas, subjecting them to inhumane conditions and lifelong enslavement.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[The Daily Times]
The colonization of the Americas resulted in the decimation and displacement of countless Native American populations, as their lands were seized, cultures were eroded, and resources were exploited. In Africa, the “Scramble for Africa” led to the partitioning and colonization of the continent by European powers, imposing foreign rule and sowing the seeds of enduring conflicts and social divisions. Imperialism extended beyond Europe’s borders as well. The British Empire, for instance, exerted dominance over vast territories, including India, imposing economic exploitation, cultural assimilation, and oppressive governance. The Opium Wars in China, orchestrated by colonial powers seeking to expand their influence and control trade, inflicted immense suffering and degradation upon the Chinese people. These examples highlight the dire consequences of colonialism and imperialism, resulting in cultural destruction, loss of autonomy, economic exploitation, and enduring geopolitical conflicts that continue to shape our world today.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via MassimoMeloni/Shutterstock.com]


We’ve probably all heard about the Donner Party, right? They were a group of American pioneers who were traveling to California from the Midwest from 1846-1847. It is said that delays occurred due to multiple issues, resulting in the party becoming snowbound in Sierra Nevada’s mountain range. Due to the lack of resources, particularly other animals to eat, people began to starve. Others ended up dying from the extreme cold or even due to some sort of sickness. That led to several bodies, already dead, that were just going to sit and rot. Thus, most of the remaining people decided to eat the bodies of these dead pioneers. While eating already deceased members was one thing, they also killed two Native American guides for food too.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via LoulouVonGlup/Shutterstock.com]
Cannibalism in this era was seen as a pretty bad thing to do, especially killing someone for this purpose. However, cannibalism was a pretty common practice and certainly a dark side of human evolution. This practice was relatively common among the Neanderthals as well as other human species. Notably, several major South American and African societies took part in this. Some of them were even part of rituals or ceremonies. In fact, the name comes from the Caribs or Caníbales, which was a name given by the Spanish (or Christopher Columbus) to a Caribbean tribe thought to have ritualistically eaten other humans. Again, this might be a dark side of human evolution to us today but for many ancient societies, it was pretty normal to see.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures]


If there is one dark side of human evolution that is possibly worse than most, it’d be this one. Slavery was and still is a crime against humanity. However, slavery has some chapters we’re not quite as familiar with. For example, someone who owed a debt to another but could not afford to pay it would pay it off through slave labor. This was a common practice in Ancient Greece and even Egypt for a long time. Of course, some were not released from this and were kept as slaves even after paying their debt. Yet this was more uncommon. Overall, we practiced slavery in some form or another for at least 11,000 years now. Women were some of the most common slaves among the rich, especially in monarchies. They might also be taken as “wives” as spoils of war for invading armies too. Other people, more often than not poorer classes, were taken as property.

The Dark Side Of Human Evolution: 10 Disturbing Facts About Our Ancestors
[Image via Everett Collection/Shutterstock.com]
The Roman Empire was known for having “Chattel Slave Classes.” This was a class of people that became the property of the enslaver. Slavery took on a different look by the 1200s when Europeans began to start forcing African black men and women, even children, to be slaves. Of course, other Africans used people as slaves both before, during, and after Europeans came in. The American slave trade stands as a profoundly dark and disturbing chapter in human evolution, characterized by the forced enslavement, brutal treatment, and dehumanization of millions of African people. This abhorrent practice not only caused immeasurable suffering and loss of life but also perpetuated systemic racism and inequalities that continue to reverberate through society today.


Where Do We Find this Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

United States Library of Congress

United States Department of State

International Labour Organization

United Nations

National Public Radio (NPR)

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

Columbia University

University of Florida

Smithsonian Institution

National Geographic

New York Times