Comparative gene mapping and chromosome painting permit the tentative reconstruction of ancestral karyotypes. The modern human karyotype is proposed to differ from that of the most recent common ancestor of catarrhine primates by two major rearrangements. The first was the fission of an ancestral chromosome to produce the homologues of human chromosomes 14 and 15. This fission occurred before the divergence of gibbons from humans and other apes. The second was the fusion of two ancestral chromosomes to form human chromosome 2. This fusion occurred after the divergence of humans and chimpanzees. Moving further back in time, homologues of human chromosomes 3 and 21 were formed by the fission of an ancestral linkage group that combined loci of both human chromosomes, whereas homologues of human chromosomes 12 and 22 were formed by a reciprocal translocation between two ancestral chromosomes. Both events occurred at some time after our most recent common ancestor with lemurs. Less direct evidence suggests that the short and long arms of human chromosomes 8, 16 and 19 were unlinked in this ancestor. Finally, the most recent common ancestor of primates and artiodactyls is proposed to have possessed a chromosome that combined loci from human chromosomes 4 and 8p, a chromosome that combined loci from human chromosomes 16q and 19q, and a chromosome that combined loci from human chromosomes 2p and 20.