Major Discoveries About Human Ancestors

Updated April 8, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

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 ago Species Discovered Remarks
c. 2.5 million to 2.8 million Homo naledi 2013 Rising Star Cave outside Johannesburg, South Africa The 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 million Homo erectus 2007 Dmanisi, Georgia May reveal how early humans moved out of Africa
3.5-4.1 million Au. anamensis 2006 in the Afar desert, Ethiopa The missing link in evolution between Australopithecines and earlier Ardipithecus
5.8-5.2 million Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba 1997-1998 in Alayla, Ethiopia May be oldest-known human ancestor. About the size of modern chimpanzees, or 4 ft tall standing. May have walked upright
c. 4.4 million Ardipithecus ramidus
1994 in Aramis, Ethiopia Similar to A. ramidus kadabba
c. 4.2 million Australopithecus
1995, two sites at Lake Turkana in Kenya: Kanapoi and Allia Bay Possible ancestor of A. afarensis (Lucy). Walked upright
c. 3.2 million Australopithecus
1974 at Hadar in the Afar triangle of eastern Ethiopia; Laetoli, Tanzania Nicknamed “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 million Australopithecus
1924 at Taung, northern Cape Province, South Africa Descendant of “Lucy.“ Lived in social groups
c. 2 million Australopithecus
1938 in Kromdraai, South Africa Was related to A. africanus
c. 2 million Homo habilis (“skillful“
or “handy man“)
1960 in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania First brain enlargement; is believed to have used stone tools
c. 1.8 million Homo erectus (“upright
1891 at Trinil, Java, Indonesia Brain 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. 195,000 Homo sapiens sapiens
(“knowing or wise man“)
Discovered in 1964 (dated 2005) at Omo Kibish, Ethiopia The Omo skull fossils are the oldest-known anatomically modern humans


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