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Our ancestors: hominids and hominins


Important conventions

Members of the lineage that includes genus Homo (humans) and genus Pan (chimpanzees) but not other apes.
Members of the lineage of humans ("human branch") following split (divergence) of genus Homo with genus Pan from their Last Common Ancestor (LCA) about 5 million years ago.
Grade is a category based on the outcome of the evolutionary history rather than on the process of the evolutionary history. Taxa in the same grade are adapted to eat same sort of foods, share the same posture and mode of locomotion. Categorization into grades is somewhat subjective and debatable especially when evidence is sparse. According to Wood B. and Lonergan in review "The hominin fossil record: taxa, grades and clades", J. Anat. (2008) extant hominids and hominins can be tentatively divided into the following grades: Possible and probable hominins, Archaic hominins, Megadont archaic hominins, Pre-modern Homo and Anatomically modern Homo. Different species, often geographically separated and presumably not closely related, can be attributed to a same grade. The chart below shows that many species and grades of hominins co-existed with each other.
Hominin grades and taxa temporal chart

Hominid and hominin species

Current species name
Earlier synonyms
Discovery publication
Temporal range
Characteristics (* - derived from discovery analysis)
Chororapithecus abyssinicus Suwa G et al. A new species of great ape from the late Miocene epoch in Ethiopia. Nature. 2007 Aug 23
10-10.5 MYA
Chorora Formation at the southern margin of the Afar rift (north of Kenya)
* Ape; basal member of the gorilla clade
Sahelanthropus tchadensis Vignaud P et al. Geology and palaeontology of the Upper Miocene Toros-Menalla hominid locality, Chad. Nature. 2002 Jul 11
6 - 7 MYA (Miocene)
Toros-Menalla site 266, Djurab Desert, northern Chad, central Africa
  • Did not habitually hold its head in an upright position over the spine and was not an obligate biped (Wolpoff MH et al. Palaeoanthropology. Sahelanthropus or 'Sahelpithecus'? Nature. 2002 Oct 10).
  • Analysis of the basicranium further indicates that S. tchadensis might have been an upright biped (Zollikofer CP et al. Virtual cranial reconstruction of Sahelanthropus tchadensis. Nature. 2005 Apr 7).
  • Although S. tchadensis is clearly a hominid, its complex mosaic of features poses some interesting systematic questions about early hominid evolution that can be resolved only with more data (Guy F et al. Morphological affinities of the Sahelanthropus tchadensis (Late Miocene hominid from Chad) cranium. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Dec 27).
    Sahelanthropus tchadensis
Orrorin tugenensis Pickford, M. & Senut, B. The geological and faunal context of Late Miocene hominid remains from Lukeino, Kenya. C.R. Acad. Sci. Ser. IIa 332, 145-152 (2001)
Approx. 6 MYA
  • Was bipedal (Galik K et al. External and internal morphology of the BAR 1002'00 Orrorin tugenensis femur. Science. 2004 Sep 3).
  • Weighed approximately 35-50 kg, was about 1.1-1.2 m tall (Nakatsukasa M et al. Femur length, body mass, and stature estimates of Orrorin tugenensis, a 6 Ma hominid from Kenya. Primates. 2007 Jul).
  • Was bipedal but is not more closely related to Homo than to Australopithecus (Richmond BG, Jungers WL. Orrorin tugenensis femoral morphology and the evolution of hominin bipedalism. Science. 2008 Mar 21).
Ardipithecus ramidus
Initially Australopithecus ramidus
Read detailed review HERE (new window)
White TD, Suwa G, Asfaw B. Australopithecus ramidus, a new species of early hominid from Aramis, Ethiopia. Nature. 1994 Sep 22
Approx. 4.4 MYA
Middle Awash, Ethiopia
As described in review Wood B, Lonergan N. The hominin fossil record: taxa, grades and clades. J Anat. 2008 Apr
  • Shared some features with living species of Pan as well as other African apes, however, several dental and cranial feature were only characteristic to later hominins such as A. afarensis.
  • Weighed about 40kg.
  • Was more upright and bipedal than living apes.
  • Was significantly more primitive than Australopithecus.
Australopithecus anamensis Leakey MG et al. New four-million-year-old hominid species from Kanapoi and Allia Bay, Kenya. Nature. 1995 Aug 17
3.9 - 4.2 MYA
  • * Ancestor to Australopithecus afarensis; bipedal.
  • A. anamensis most closely resembles A. afarensis, but can be distinguished from it in many features. Most of these features are inferred to be primitive for the genus. (Ward CV et al. Morphology of Australopithecus anamensis from Kanapoi and Allia Bay, Kenya. J Hum Evol. 2001 Oct).
  • Was probably adapted for habitually consuming a hard-tough diet (Macho GA et al. Australopithecus anamensis: a finite-element approach to studying the functional adaptations of extinct hominins. Anat Rec A Discov Mol Cell Evol Biol. 2005 Apr).
Australopithecus afarensis Johanson, DC et al. Pliocene hominid fossils from Hadar, Ethiopia. Am J Phys Anthropol. 1982 Apr
3.0 - 3.4 MYA
Hadar formation, Ethiopia
As described in review Wood B, Lonergan N. The hominin fossil record: taxa, grades and clades. J Anat. 2008 Apr
  • Weighed 30-45 kg, 1.0-1.5 m tall.
  • Estimated brain size is not substantially larger than that of Pan.
  • Was capable of bipedal walking but not adapted for long-range bipedalism; upper limbs adapted to arboreality.
  • Sexual dimorphism is debated.
Australopithecus afarensis
Australopithecus garhi Asfaw B et al. Australopithecus garhi: a new species of early hominid from Ethiopia. Science. 1999 Apr 23
2.0 - 3.0 MYA
* This species is descended from A. afarensis and is a candidate ancestor for early Homo.
Australopithecus africanus Dart RA. 1925. Australopithecus africanus: the man-ape of South Africa. Nature 115:195-199
2.5 MYA
Taung, South Africa
  • Cranial capacity estimate of 382-406 cm3. ( Falk D. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2009;140 Suppl 49:49-65.)
  • "Australopithecus had a revolutionary new adaptation: the gteater-than-the-average mammal intelligence of an anthropoid primate, the wonderfully manipulative dexterity of the primate hand, and a means of getting about on the ground that kept the hand free of any duty to body support." (McHenry HM. Journal of human evolution (186) 15,177-191)
Australopithecus africanus head
Paranthropus boisei
Initially Zinjanthropus boisei
Also Australopithecus boisei
  • Leakey MD. 1958
  • ROBINSON JT, LEAKEY LS. An alternative interpretation of the supposed giant deciduous hominid tooth from Olduvai. Nature. 1960 Feb 6
  • Leakey MD. Recent discoveries of hominid remains at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Nature. 1969 Aug 16

Approx. 2.5 MYA
  • The habitual posture of P. boisei was similar to that of premodern Homo and modern humans. Wood B, Constantino P. Paranthropus boisei: fifty years of evidence and analysis. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2007
Paranthropus boisei
Paranthropus robustus
Also Australopithecus robustus
  • Brain CK. New finds at the Swartkrans Australopithecine site. Nature. 1970 Mar 21
  • Susman RL, Brain TM. New first metatarsal (SKX 5017) from Swartkrans and the gait of Paranthropus robustus. Am J Phys Anthropol. 1988 Sep
  • Susman RL et al. Recently identified postcranial remains of Paranthropus and early Homo from Swartkrans Cave, South Africa. J Hum Evol. 2001 Dec
  • Susman RL. New hominid fossils from the Swartkrans formation (1979-1986 excavations): postcranial specimens. Am J Phys Anthropol. 1989 Aug

Approx. 1.8 MYA
Swartkrans, South Africa
  • South African "robust" australopithecines engaged in tool behavior and were essentially terrestrial bipeds; the manual dexterity and bipedal locomotion of Paranthropus may have equaled that of Homo habilis in East Africa at approximately the same time (Susman RL. New hominid fossils from the Swartkrans formation (1979-1986 excavations): postcranial specimens. Am J Phys Anthropol. 1989 Aug).
Paranthropus robustus
Approx. 1.76 MYA
Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and other locations in Africa
  • The skeleton represents a mosaic of primitive and derived features, indicating an early hominid which walked bipedally and could fabricate stone tools but also retained the generalized hominoid capacity to climb trees (Susman RL, Stern JT. Functional Morphology of Homo habilis. Susman RL, Stern JT. 1982).
Homo erectus
  • Asfaw B et al. Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature. 2002 Mar 21
    Approx. 1 MYA
    Middle Awash, Ethiopia
  • de Castro JM et al. A new early Pleistocene hominin mandible from Atapuerca-TD6, Spain. J Hum Evol. 2008 Oct
    Spain, Europe
  • Homo erectus may have evolved outside of Africa (Swisher CC 3rd et al. Age of the earliest known hominids in Java, Indonesia. Science. 1994 Feb 25).
Homo erectus
Homo antecessor
  • de Castro JM et al. A hominid from the lower Pleistocene of Atapuerca, Spain: possible ancestor to Neandertals and modern humans. Science. 1997 May 30
    Approx. 650,000 years ago
  • Carbonell E et al. The Pleistocene site of Gran Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain: a history of the archaeological investigations. J Hum Evol. 1999 Sep-Oct
    Approx. 780,000 years ago
    Spain, Europe
  • Last common ancestor for H. sapiens (modern humans) and H. neanderthalensis (Neandertals) (Carretero JM et al. Axial and appendicular skeleton of Homo antecessor. J Hum Evol. 1999 Sep-Oct).
Homo heidelbergensis 600-100 KYA
As described in review Wood B, Lonergan N. The hominin fossil record: taxa, grades and clades. J Anat. 2008 Apr
  • The earliest hominin to have a brain as that of anatomically modern human.
  • Well suited for long-distance bipedal walking.
Homo heidelbergensis
Homo neanderthalensis 200 - 28 KYA
Europe, Near East, Levant, Western Asia
As described in review Wood B, Lonergan N. The hominin fossil record: taxa, grades and clades. J Anat. 2008 Apr
  • The endocranial volume is larger than that of modern human.
  • Obligate bipeds.
  • Strenuous life style.
  • The differences between the mtDNA recovered from Neanderthals and the mtDNA of modern humans are substantial and significant.
Homo neanderthalensis
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