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The Evolution of Hominids

The fossil record of the hominids (Homo Sapiens and its relatives) is sparse, with many long gaps (since fossils only tend to be found where the process of fossilisation occurs most readily). The evolution of the hominids is therefore not well understood in detail and new fossil finds are still causing significant changes to the proposed lines of descent. 

  Height (m)


Brain size (ml) Skull form Jaws/teeth Distribution Known date (years ago)  

Homo habilis (small)
1 Relatively long arms 500-650 Relatively small face; nose developed Thinner jaw; smaller, narrow molars Eastern (+ Southern?) Africa 2-1.6 million
Homo habilis (small)

Homo habilis (large)
c. 1.5 Robust but 'human' skeleton 600-800 Larger, flatter face Robust jaw, large narrow molars Eastern Africa 2-1.6 million
Homo habilis (large)

Homo erectus
1.3-1.5 Robust but 'human skeleton' 750-1250 Flat, thick skull with large occipital and brow ridge Robust jaw in larger individuals; smaller teeth than H. habilis Africa, Asia and Indonesia (+ Europe?) 1.8-0.3 million
Homo erectus

'Archaic Homo Sapiens'
? Robust but 'human skeleton' 1100-1400 Higher skull; face less protruding Similar to H. erectus but teeth may be smaller Africa, Asia and Europe 400,000-100,000
'Archaic Homo Sapiens'

1.5-1.7 As 'archaic H. sapiens' but adapted for cold 1200-1750 Reduced brow ridge; thinner skull; large nose; midface projection Similar to 'archaic H. sapiens'; teeth smaller except for incisors; chin development in some Europe and western Asia 150,000-30,000

Early modern Homo sapiens
1.6-1.85 Modern skeleton; adapted for warmth 1200-1700 small or no brow ridge; shorter, higher skull Shorter jaws than Neanderthals; chin developed; teeth may be smaller Africa and western Asia 130,000-60,000
Early modern Homo sapiens

From The Cambridge Encylopedia of Human Evolution, p251. Reproduced with permission of Cambridge University Press.

See the Neanderthals for a particularly interesting test-case in the understanding of the process by which humans became human.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate and Dr. Michael Robert Negus
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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