How Many Humans Have Ever Lived?
In 2022, the world will likely hit a momentous milestone—a population of eight billion.
Of course, this dramatic increase in the world’s human population is a relatively new phenomenon. For many thousands of years, there were fewer people roaming the Earth than would live in a mid-sized city today.
But this does raise an interesting question, though: over the long arc of human history, how many people have ever lived?
The unique and powerful visualization above, from the team at Our World in Data, highlights how many humans have ever lived, and how much of humanity is currently alive today.
Quantifying Our Ancestors
How many humans came before us? This is the question demographers like Toshiko Kaneda and Carl Haub have attempted to answer.
Quantifying all of humanity requires a firm starting date for when humans became, well, human. Evolution is a gradual process, so figuring out the start date for humankind is no easy task. For the purposes of this exercise, however, the two demographers used 190,000 BCE as the cutoff.
There are two opposing points to consider when thinking about prehistoric humans:
- Around the chosen start date, the global cohort of humans was quite small—perhaps as low as only 30,000 individuals.
- Before the modern era, lifespans were much shorter, so long stretches of time can actually influence numbers drastically.
With this context and timeframe in mind, the demographers estimate that 109 billion people have lived and died over the course of 192,000 years. If we add the number of people alive today, we get 117 billion humans that have ever lived.
This means that for every person alive today, there are approximately 14 people who are no longer with us.
It is these 109 billion people we have to thank for the civilization that we live in. The languages we speak, the food we cook, the music we enjoy, the tools we use – what we know we learned from them. –Max Roser, Our World in Data
How Much of Humanity is Currently Alive Today?
When considering that 7% of all humans who have ever lived are alive today, especially when measuring across more than a thousand centuries, it’s remarkable that such a large portion of humans are currently living.
If we chart the recent global population explosion though, it begins to make sense.
Looking at the chart above, it’s hard to predict which path humanity will go down in the future, and how that will affect future population growth.
It was only in 2007 that the majority of humans began to live in cities, and in 2018 that the majority gained access to the internet. While we’ll never meet the 109 billion humans who laid the foundation for our modern societies, we’ve never been more connected as a species.
What will we do with our time in the top of the hour glass?
As noted on the graphic, this is an updated adaptation of a 2013 visualization by Oliver Uberti.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
The Incredible Historical Map That Changed Cartography
Check out the Fra Mauro Mappa Mundi (c. 1450s), a historical map that formed a bridge between medieval and renaissance worldviews.
The Incredible Historical Map That Changed Cartography
This map is the latest in our Vintage Viz series, which presents historical visualizations along with the context needed to understand them.
In a one-paragraph story called On Exactitude in Science (Del Rigor en la Ciencia), Jorge Luis Borges imagined an empire where cartography had reached such an exact science that only a map on the same scale of the empire would suffice.
The Fra Mauro Mappa Mundi (c. 1450s), named for the lay Camaldolite monk and cartographer whose Venetian workshop created it, is not nearly as large, at a paltry 77 inches in diameter (196 cm). But its impact and significance as a bridge between Middle Age and Renaissance thought certainly rivaled Borges’ imagined map.
One of ‘the Wonders of Venice’
Venice was the undisputed commercial power in the Mediterranean, whose trade routes connected east and west, stretching to Flanders, London, Algeria, and beyond.
This network was protected by fleets of warships built at the famous Arsenale di Venezia, the largest production facility in the West, whose workforce of thousands of arsenalotti built ships on an assembly line, centuries before Henry Ford.
The lion of St Mark guards the land gate to the Arsenale di Venezia, except instead of the usual open bible in its hands offering peace, this book is closed, reflecting its martial purpose. Source: Wikipedia
The Mappa Mundi (literally “map of the world”) was considered one of the wonders of Venice with a reputation that reached the Holy Land. It is a circular planisphere drawn on four sheets of parchment, mounted onto three poplar panels and reinforced by vertical battens.
The map is painted in rich reds, golds, and blues; this last pigment was obtained from rare lapis lazuli, imported from mines in Afghanistan. At its corners are four spheres showing the celestial and sublunar worlds, the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water), and an illumination of the Garden of Eden by Leonardo Bellini (active 1443-1490).
Japan (on the left edge, called the Isola de Cimpagu) appears here for the first time in a Western map. And contradicting Ptolemaic tradition, it also shows that it was possible to circumnavigate Africa, presaging the first European journey around the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488.
NASA called the historical map “stunning” in its accuracy.
A Historical Map Between Two Worlds
Medieval maps, like the Hereford Mappa Mundi (c. 1300), were usually oriented with east at the top, because that’s where the Garden of Eden was thought to be. Fra Mauro, however, chose to orient his to the south, perhaps following Muslim geographers such as Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Idrisi.
Significantly, the Garden of Eden is placed outside of geographic space and Jerusalem is no longer at the center, though it is still marked by a windrose. The nearly 3,000 place names and descriptions are written in the Venetian vernacular, rather than Latin.
At the same time, as much as Fra Mauro’s map is a departure from the past, it also retains traces of a medieval Christian worldview. For example, included on the map are the Kingdom of the Magi, the Kingdom of Prester John, and the Tomb of Adam.
Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae (c. 600–625). Source: Wikipedia
The circular planisphere also follows the medieval T-O schema, first described by Isidore of Seville, with Asia occupying the top half of the circle, and Europe and Africa each occupying the bottom two quarters (Fra Mauro turns the ‘T’ on its side, to reflect a southern orientation). Around the circle, are many islands, beyond which is the “dark sea” where only shipwreck and misfortune await.
Fra Mauro’s Legacy
Fra Mauro died some time before 20 October 1459, and unfortunately his contributions fell into obscurity soon thereafter; until 1748, it was believed that the Mappa Mundi was a copy of a lost map by Marco Polo.
In 1811, the original was moved from Fra Mauro’s monastery of San Michele to the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, following the suppression of religious orders in the Napoleonic era, where it can be viewed today.
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