Major Discoveries About Human Ancestors

Living and extinct human beings and their near-human ancestors are called “hominids“ and belong to the Hominidae family of primates. They should not be confused with “hominoids,“ which belong to the Hominoidea superfamily of primates and include apes and humans. Scientists theorize that the human and ape lines branched off from a common ancestor 8 million to 6 million years ago.

Years agoSpeciesDiscoveredRemarks
c. 2.5 million to 2.8 millionHomo naledi2013 Rising Star Cave outside Johannesburg, South AfricaThe discovery introduced a new pre-human species of hominid. More than 1,550 bone fragments were found deep within a chamber, suggesting that the species buried its dead. This ritual was previously believed to have been unique to humans. The new species was announced in Sep. 2015.
c. 1.8 millionHomo erectus2007 Dmanisi, GeorgiaMay reveal how early humans moved out of Africa
3.5-4.1 millionAu. anamensis2006 in the Afar desert, EthiopaThe missing link in evolution between Australopithecines and earlier Ardipithecus
5.8-5.2 millionArdipithecus ramidus kadabba1997-1998 in Alayla, EthiopiaMay be oldest-known human ancestor. About the size of modern chimpanzees, or 4 ft tall standing. May have walked upright
c. 4.4 millionArdipithecus ramidus
1994 in Aramis, EthiopiaSimilar to A. ramidus kadabba
c. 4.2 millionAustralopithecus
1995, two sites at Lake Turkana in Kenya: Kanapoi and Allia BayPossible ancestor of A. afarensis (Lucy). Walked upright
c. 3.2 millionAustralopithecus
1974 at Hadar in the Afar triangle of eastern Ethiopia; Laetoli, TanzaniaNicknamed “Lucy.“ Her skeleton was 3.5 ft (100 cm) tall. Had apelike skull. Walked fully upright. Lived in family groups throughout eastern Africa
c. 2.5 millionAustralopithecus
1924 at Taung, northern Cape Province, South AfricaDescendant of “Lucy.“ Lived in social groups
c. 2 millionAustralopithecus
1938 in Kromdraai, South AfricaWas related to A. africanus
c. 2 millionHomo habilis (“skillful“
or “handy man“)
1960 in Olduvai Gorge, TanzaniaFirst brain enlargement; is believed to have used stone tools
c. 1.8 millionHomo erectus (“upright
1891 at Trinil, Java, IndonesiaBrain size twice that of australopithecine species. “Java Man“ may have been a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens or instead developed on a separate evolutionary track. He is the first hominid to use fire and the hand ax
c. 195,000Homo sapiens sapiens
(“knowing or wise man“)
Discovered in 1964 (dated 2005) at Omo Kibish, EthiopiaThe Omo skull fossils are the oldest-known anatomically modern humans


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