Scientists have identified at least 21 early human species, but the exact number is still debated.
The classification of early human species is a complex and constantly evolving field. New discoveries are being made all the time, and the relationships between different species are still being debated. As a result, the number of early human species that have been identified is likely to change in the future.
Here are the 5 early human species existed on the Earth:
- Sahelanthropus tchadensis
- Australopithecus afarensis
- Homo habilis
- Homo erectus
- Homo heidelbergensis
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1. Sahelanthropus tchadensis
Sahelanthropus tchadensis is an extinct species of hominin that lived in Chad about 7 million years ago. It is one of the earliest known hominins, and its discovery has challenged our understanding of human evolution.
The discovery of Toumaï was significant because it showed that hominins were present in Africa much earlier than previously thought. The fossils were dated to about 7 million years ago, which is about 1 million years earlier than the earliest known fossils of Australopithecus, another early hominin species.
It is possible that Toumaï was a direct ancestor of later hominins, such as Australopithecus and Homo. Alternatively, it may have been a side branch of the human evolutionary tree.
Key features of Sahelanthropus tchadensis:
- Brain size: The braincase of Toumaï is about 360 cubic centimeters, which is about the size of a chimpanzee’s brain.
- Facial features: Toumaï has a human-like face with small canine teeth.
- Postcranial skeleton: The postcranial skeleton of Toumaï is not well-preserved, but it suggests that Toumaï was bipedal.
- Habitat: Toumaï lived in a woodland savanna environment.
2. Australopithecus afarensis
Australopithecus afarensis is an early hominin species that lived between approximately 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago. They are the closest known relatives of modern humans, and we most likely evolved from a species that was part of this adaptive radiation.
The most famous fossil attributed to Australopithecus afarensis is “Lucy,” discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia. Lucy’s skeleton provided valuable insights into the anatomy and locomotion of this species.
Australopithecus species are known for their bipedalism, or the ability to walk upright on two legs. They also had smaller brains than modern humans, with brain sizes ranging from about 350 to 550 cubic centimeters.
Members of this species were generally shorter in stature, with males averaging about 5 feet (1.5 meters) in height and females slightly shorter.
While Australopithecus afarensis is not known for sophisticated tool use, some evidence suggests they may have used simple stone tools for tasks like processing food or breaking open bones.
3. Homo habilis
Homo habilis, also known as “handy man,” is an extinct species of hominin that lived in Africa from roughly 2.4 to 1.5 million years ago. It is the earliest known species of the genus Homo, and it is thought to be the direct ancestor of Homo erectus.
Additionally, first discovered in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey and his team in the 1960s. Its name was given to reflect the species’ association with the use of tools.
Homo habilis was a small-bodied hominin, with an average brain size of about 600 cubic centimeters. However, they had a relatively small stature, with an average height of around 3.5 to 4.5 feet (1.1 to 1.4 meters).
Homo habilis is recognized as the first species to use stone tools. The tools they created were relatively simple, consisting mainly of sharp-edged flakes made by striking rocks together, which they used for tasks such as butchering animals and processing plants.
4. Homo erectus
Homo erectus, also known as “upright man,” is an extinct species of hominin that lived in Africa, Asia, and Europe from roughly 2 million to 117,000 years ago. They are the earliest known hominins to have migrated out of Africa, and they were the first hominins to use fire.
Homo erectus had a more modern body structure compared to its predecessors. They had a large-bodied hominin, with an average brain size of about 850 cubic centimeters.
Homo erectus is believed to have originated in Africa and later migrated to various parts of the world. Fossil evidence suggests their presence in regions such as Africa, Asia (including Indonesia and China), and possibly even Europe.
There is evidence to suggest that Homo erectus had control over fire. The ability to use and control fire would have provided them with warmth, protection, and the ability to cook food, which likely had significant impacts on their diet and social dynamics.
5. Homo heidelbergensis
Homo heidelbergensis is an extinct species of hominin that lived in Africa, Europe, and Asia from roughly 700,000 to 200,000 years ago. They are thought to be the direct ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals) and Homo sapiens (modern humans).
Homo heidelbergensis exhibited a mix of anatomical features, displaying both primitive and more modern traits. They had a large-bodied hominin, with an average brain size of about 1,200 cubic centimeters.
Homo heidelbergensis was a skilled toolmaker. They made a variety of stone tools, including handaxes, cleavers, and scrapers. These tools were used for tasks such as butchering animals, processing plants, and making shelters. Their tool technology represents an important step in human cultural development.
Homo heidelbergensis is thought to have been the first hominin to control fire. This allowed them to cook food, which made it easier to digest and absorb nutrients. It also allowed them to stay warm at night and to protect themselves from predators.
Other early human species:
- Homo neanderthalensis: Neanderthals lived from approximately 400,000 to 40,000 years ago. They shared many similarities with modern humans, including a larger brain size and the ability to create tools and engage in complex social behaviors.
- Homo naledi: Homo naledi is a recently discovered species that lived in South Africa between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago. They possess a unique combination of human-like and primitive traits.
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- Denisovans: Denisovans are a group of hominins known primarily from DNA evidence extracted from a finger bone found in Denisova Cave in Siberia. They likely coexisted and interbred with both Neanderthals and early modern humans.
- Homo floresiensis: Homo floresiensis, also known as the “Hobbit” due to their small stature, lived on the Indonesian island of Flores between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago.
- Homo sapiens: Homo sapiens, or modern humans, emerged in Africa around 300,000 years ago and are the only surviving hominin species. They eventually spread across the globe and became the dominant hominin species.