Museum

TUKUL 3: Palaeoanthropology

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Origin of genus Homo

Homo habilis


The first species of Homo recognized by palaeoanthropologists is Homo habilis; known in East (Olduvai, Omo, Koobi Fora, Ileret) and South Africa (Swartkrans and Sterkfontein), this is a species dated to over 2.0 Myr.

Its skull, with a long and ovoidal vault and a rounded occipital, has a cranial capacity that can vary from between 500 to 800 cm3; the height and width of the face are reduced, the mandible is less robust than that of the Australopithecines, the incisors and the canines are slightly larger, the premolars and molars are narrow and long, with a size intermediate between the Australopithecines and Homo erectus, the palate is relatively deep. After being considered by palaeo-anthropologists to be the first representative of the line leading to Homo sapiens, some researchers now believe that Homo habilis was preceded by another species named Homo rudolfensis.


The size of Homo habilis

Homo rudolfensis


The study of human fossil remains of the collections from Koobi Fora (Kenya), initially attributed to Homo habilis, possible suggests a division of the oldest ancestors of the genus Homo into two species: the earliest one, Homo rudolfensis, dated to about 2.5 Myr, presents a more robust morphology than that of the later Homo habilis, with a larger brain and wider face.

However, this species is not known well enough for its phylogenetic position with respect to Homo habilis to be determined.


Homo rudolfensis

Homo ergaster


The name Homo ergaster indicates the oldest forms of Homo erectus which appeared in East Africa between 2.0 and 1.6 Myr. This hominid is characterized by a skull larger than that of its ancestors, with a capacity between 850 and 1000 cm3. The face is flat and surmounted by a supraorbital torus curved in its medial portion.

The occipital bone sometimes presents a very large torus. The famous skeleton of adolescent found in 1984 at Nariokotome, West of Lake Tur-kana and dated to 1.6 Myr, is attributed to this species Homo ergaster.


Homo ergaster
This is a young individual about 11-13 years old, who was already 160 cm tall and who could have reached, as an adult, a height of about 180 cm; the state of preservation of his remains is particularly good. It should be mentioned that this species is not commonly accepted because many palaeoanthropologists prefer the term archaic Homo erectus to Homo ergaster.

Homo erectus


Born in East Africa, the species Homo erectus is the more similar to Homo sapiens.

Homo erectus is a “gradual” species, which means that it evolved for a very long period (between 1.6 Myr and 200,000 years).

During this period this hominid shows a continuous evolution and the last Homo erectus overlaps with individuals known as archaic Homo sapiens. Homo erectus is also the species that, about 1.5 Myr, left its African cradle to conquer Asia and Europe.

In these new geographic areas, the different types of Homo erectus show an independent and differentiated evolution.


Homo erectus


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