Overview

Brief Summary

Where Lived: Eastern Africa (northern Kenya, possibly northern Tanzania and Malawi)

When Lived: About 1.9 million to 1.8 million years ago

There is only one really good fossil of this Homo rudolfensis: KNM-ER 1470, from Koobi Fora in the Lake Turkana basin, Kenya. It has one really critical feature: a braincase size of 775 cubic centimeters, which is considerably above the upper end of H. habilis braincase size. At least one other braincase from the same region also shows such a large cranial capacity.

Originally considered to be H. habilis, the ways in which H. rudolfensis differs is in its larger braincase, longer face, and larger molar and premolar teeth. Due to the last two features, though, some scientists still wonder whether this ‘species’ might better be considered an Australopithecus, although one with a large brain!

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Nickname: Handy Man

Where Lived: Eastern and Southern Africa

When Lived: 2.4 million to 1.4 million years ago

This species, one of the earliest members of the genus Homo, has a slightly larger braincase and smaller face and teeth than in Australopithecus or older hominin species. But it still retains some ape-like features, including long arms and a moderately-prognathic face.

Its name, which means ‘handy man’, was given in 1964 because this species was thought to represent the first stone-tool maker. Currently, the oldest stone tools are dated slightly older than the oldest evidence of the genus Homo.

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Physical Description

Size

Currently unknown due to a lack of post-cranial fossils.

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Height:

average 3 ft 4 in - 4 ft 5 in (100 - 135 cm)

Weight:

average 70 lbs (32 kg)

Height & Weight Supplemental Information:

Male-female body size difference is uncertain, because most post-cranial remains have not been attributed to male or female.

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Type Information

Key Fossils

KNM-ER 1470

Site: Koobi Fora, Kenya

Date of discovery: 1972

Discovered by: Bernard Ngeneo

Age: About 1.9 million years old

Species: Homo rudolfensis

One of four species

Louis Leakey saw KNM-ER 1470 only days before his death, and, believing the skull to be a million years older than it was, classified it as an “indeterminate species of Homo.” When scientists later dated the skull to 1.9 million years old, the same age to when Homo habilis lived, the scientific community thought KNM-ER 1470 must then belong to Homo habilis - but the mandible (jaw) and teeth just didn’t seem to fit within acceptable limits of variation or differences for H. habilis. Even if KNM-ER 1470 was considered a large H. habilis male, the size difference would be too great compared to KNM-ER 1813, an established H. habilis female, for the two to both belong to the same species. Over several weeks following its discovery, scientists Meave Leakey and Bernard Wood reconstructed KNM-ER 1470’s skull from more than 150 fragments, revealing a large cranium with a long, wide, flat face. While tooth roots show that this early human had large teeth, the skull lacked the massive jaw muscle features characteristic of robust australopithecines.

Today, most scientists now accept KNM-ER 1470 as belonging to Homo rudolfensis -- as species that co-existed in the Turkana Basin, northern Kenya, with three other species sometime between 2.0 and 1.5 million years ago: Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Paranthropus boisei.

3-D collection link: http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/3d-collection/f-knm-er-1470

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Key Fossils

KNM-ER 1813

Site: Koobi Fora, Kenya

Date of discovery: 1973

Discovered by: Kamoya Kimeu

Age: About 1.9 million years old

Species: Homo habilis

Best known Homo habilis

KNM-ER 1813 This fossil is one of the most complete skulls of this species, best known from the Turkana Basin (Kenya) and Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) in East Africa It had a cranial capacity of only 510 cubic centimeters, well below the 600 cubic centimeter cutoff that had been in place since the creation of the Homo habilis species name. It is also not much larger than the average for Australopithecus. Still, KNM-ER 1813 is similar to many of the accepted Homo habilis specimens from Olduvai Gorge, like OH 24. The similarities include overall size, smaller orbits, and projection of the face below the nose (sub-nasal prognathism). It is somewhat skewed on its left side, a result of the pressures the skull experienced during the fossilization process.

KNM ER 1813 was found a year after KNM-ER 1470 and led to the a debate over the exact nature of Homo. The discovery of KNM-ER 1470 solidified Homo habilis as a species, but the large cranium and big teeth of KNM-ER 1470 contrasted with the find of KNM-ER 1813. In KNM-ER 1813 was an individual from the same time period in the same region, yet having a small brain and diminutive teeth and face. The difference in size was not a result of KNM-ER 1813 being immature at the time of death; the third molars were fully erupted and showed evidence of wear, so she was probably a female, fully mature at the time of her death.

3-D collection link: http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/3d-collection/f-knm-er-1813

OH 24

Nickname: Twiggy

Site: Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

Date of discovery: 1968

Discovered by: Peter Nzube

Age: About 1.8 million years old

Species: Homo habilis

OH 24 is the oldest fossil skull found at Olduvai Gorge; besides OH 5, it is the most complete.

The cranium was found crushed flat (hence the nickname) and cemented together with a coating of limestone. Little value was placed on the find originally, but after much effort by scientist Ron Clarke, the skull was reconstructed. Despite this effort, there still is a good deal of distortion from the fossilization process. The slightly small cranial capacity (just under 600 cubic centimeters) is attributed to this distortion. The face of the individual is prognathic (projects forward under the nose: see the third photograph down), as in other H. habilis individuals, but not quite to the extent of the earlier Australopithecus species. This specimen manifests the larger brain size and the reduction of facial size typical of the evolution of early Homo.

The individual's third molars had erupted, so we know that Twiggy was an adult at death. Yet the molars show no sign of wear (the points on the crowns of her teeth are still sharp, and show little sign of abrasion by rough food matter), indicating that that this individual probably died soon after their eruption.

3-D collection link: http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/3d-collection/f-oh-24

OH 8

Site: Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

Date of discovery: 1960

Discovered by: A team lead by Louis S. B. Leakey

Age: About 1.8 million years old

Species: Homo habilis

Arch support

By this time, the feet of early humans had a modern-type arch.

Do you see the tooth marks on this ankle bone? Their shape and pattern are similar to those made by modern crocodiles. The back part of the heel bone is bitten off, too. A lake with crocodiles was located not far from where this early human lived. He or she may have been drinking from the lake at the wrong time.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

How They Survived

Homo rudolfensis had large and wider molars compared to Homo habilis. While their teeth were only slightly smaller than those seen in robust australopithecines, H. rudolfensis didn’t have the heavily-built jaw and strong jaw muscle attachments seen in robust early humans. These anatomical differences likely indicate different diets between H. rudolfensis and earlier australopith species capable of more powerful chewing.

Like other early Homo species, Homo rudolfensis may have used stone tools process their food. However, because more than one species of early human lived at the time tool manufacture and use originated, it’s hard for scientists to be certain which species is responsible for the making and using the first stone tools. There are currently no stone tools found in the same layers as the H. rudolfensis fossils, but there are stone tools existing in the same time period that H. rudolfensis lived.

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How They Survived

Early Homo had smaller teeth than Australopithecus, but their tooth enamel was still thick and their jaws were still strong, indicating their teeth were still adapted chewing some hard foods (possibly only seasonally when their preferred foods became less available). Dental microwear studies suggest that the diet of H. habilis was flexible and versatile and that they were capable of eating a broad range of foods, including some tougher foods like leaves, woody plants, and some animal tissues, but that they did not routinely consume or specialize in eating hard foods like brittle nuts or seeds, dried meat, or very hard tubers.

Another line of evidence for the diet of H. habilis comes from some of the earliest cut- and percussion-marked bones, found back to 2.6 million years ago. Scientists usually associate these traces of butchery of large animals, direct evidence of meat and marrow eating, with the earliest appearance of the genus Homo, including H. habilis.

Many scientists think early Homo, including H. habilis, made and used the first stone tools found in the archaeological record—these also date back to about 2.6 million years ago; however, this hypothesis is difficult to test because several other species of early human lived at the same time, and in the same geographic area, as where traces of the earliest tool use have been found.

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Evolution and Systematics

Evolution

Evolutionary Tree Information

KNM-ER 1470, the type specimen for Homo rudolfensis was originally thought to belong to Homo habilis, along with KNM-ER 1813. While both skulls are about 1.9 million years old, KNM-ER 1740 had a large face and brain size around 700 cc, while KNM-ER 1813 had a smaller face and brain around 500 cc. The explanation was that KNM-ER 1470 was a male, and the smaller KNM-ER 1813 was a female in a strongly sexually dimorphic species; however, the anatomy of the two skulls differ considerably.

KNM-1470’s tooth roots and sockets imply the individual’s teeth were large with broad molars, while KNM-1813 had a small upper jaw with smaller, more modern-like teeth. KNM-1470 had a square upper jaw, while KNM-1813’s was rounded. KNM-1470’s browridge was slight, while KNM-1813’s was strongly developed and pronounced. These anatomical differences between KMN-ER 1470 and KNM-ER 1813 have caused many scientists question whether the two individuals were just different genders of the same species. However, the hypothesis that two species of Homo lived at the same time went against the traditional view that humans evolved one after another in a single lineage.

Today, most scientists recognize four species that lived in the Turkana Basin, northern Kenya, sometime between 2.0 and 1.5 million years ago: Homo rudolfensis, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Paranthropus boisei.

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Evolutionary Tree Information

This species, along with H. rudolfensis, is one of the earliest members of the genus Homo. Many scientists think it is an ancestor of later species of Homo, possibly on our own branch of the family tree. Naming this species required a redefining of the genus Homo (e.g., reducing the lower limit of brain size), sparking an enormous debate about the validity of this species.

While scientists used to think that H. habilis was the ancestor of Homo erectus, recent discoveries in 2000 of a relatively late 1.44 million-year-old Homo habilis (KNM-ER 42703) and a relatively early 1.55 million-year-old H. erectus (KNM-ER 42700) from the same area of northern Kenya (Ileret, Lake Turkana) challenged the conventional view that these species evolved one after the other. Instead, this evidence - along with other fossils - demonstrate that they co-existed in Eastern Africa for almost half a million years.

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Fossil History

History of Discovery

Year of Discovery: 1986

Russian scientist V.P. Alexeev named the species in 1986 after Richard Leakey’s team uncovered Homo rudolfensis fossils near the shores of Lake Rudolf (now known as Lake Turkana) in 1972. Alexeev originally named the species Pithecanthropus rudolfensis, but the genus name Pithecanthropus was later replaced by Homo.

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History of Discovery

Year of Discovery: 1960

A team led by scientists Louis and Mary Leakey uncovered the fossilized remains of a unique early human between 1960 and 1963 at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The type speciman, OH 7, was found by Jonathan Leakey, so was nicknamed "Jonny's child". Because this early human had a combination of features different from those seen in Australopithecus, Louis Leakey, South African scientist Philip Tobias, and British scientist John Napier called these remains a new species: Homo habilis, meaning ‘handy man', because they suspected that it was this slightly larger-brained early human that made the thousands of stone tools also found at Olduvai Gorge.

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Wikipedia

Homo habilis

Homo habilis is a species of the Hominini tribe, which lived from approximately 2.33 to 1.44 million years ago, during the Gelasian Pleistocene period.[1] While there has been scholarly controversy regarding its placement in the genus Homo rather than the genus Australopithecus,[2][3] its brain size has been shown to range from 550 cm3 to 687 cm3, rather than from 363 cm3 to 600 cm3 as formerly thought.[3][4] These more recent findings concerning brain size favor its traditional placement in the genus Homo, as does the need for the genus to be monophyletic if H. habilis is indeed the common ancestor.[citation needed]

In its appearance and morphology, H. habilis is the least similar to modern humans of all species in the genus Homo (except the equally controversial H. rudolfensis), and its classification as Homo has been the subject of controversial debate since its first proposal in the 1960s. H. habilis was short and had disproportionately long arms compared to modern humans; however, it had a less protruding face than the australopithecines from which it is thought to have descended. H. habilis had a cranial capacity slightly less than half of the size of modern humans. Despite the ape-like morphology of the bodies, H. habilis remains are often accompanied by primitive stone tools (e.g. Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and Lake Turkana, Kenya).

Homo habilis has often been thought to be the ancestor of the more gracile and sophisticated Homo ergaster, which in turn gave rise to the more human-appearing species, Homo erectus. Debates continue over whether all of the known fossils are properly attributed to the species, and some paleoanthropologists regard the taxon as invalid, made up of fossil specimens of Australopithecus and Homo.[5] New findings in 2007 seemed to confirm the view that H. habilis and H. erectus coexisted, representing separate lineages from a common ancestor instead of H. erectus being descended from H. habilis.[6] An alternative explanation would be that any ancestral relationship from H. habilis to H. erectus would have to have been cladogenetic rather than anagenetic (meaning that if an isolated subgroup population of H. habilis became the ancestor of H. erectus, other subgroups remained as unchanged H. habilis until their much later extinction).[7]

Findings[edit]

One set of fossil remains (OH 62), discovered by Donald Johanson and Tim White in Olduvai Gorge in 1986, included the important upper and lower limbs.[8] Their finding stimulated some debate at the time.[9] An older (1963) finding from the Olduvai site found by N. Mbuika had included a lower jaw fragment, teeth and upper mandible possibly from a female dating 1.7 million years old. The remains from three skeletons stacked on top of each other[10] demonstrated australopithecine-like body with a more human-like face and smaller teeth.

Compared to australopithecines, H. habilis' brain capacity of around 640 cm³ was on average 50% larger than australopithecines, but considerably smaller than the 1350 to 1450 cm³ range of modern Homo sapiens. These hominins were smaller than modern humans, on average standing no more than 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) tall. The small size and rather primitive attributes have led some experts (Richard Leakey among them) to propose excluding H. habilis from the genus Homo, and renaming as "Australopithecus habilis".[11]

KNM ER 1813[edit]

KNM ER 1813 is a relatively complete cranium which dates to 1.9 million years old, discovered at Koobi Fora, Kenya by Ajit Sharma in 1973. The brain capacity is 510 cm³, not as impressive as other early specimen and forms of H. habilis discovered.

OH 7[edit]

OH 7 dates to 1.75 million years old, and was discovered by Mary and Louis Leakey on November 4, 1960 at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. It is a lower jaw complete with teeth; due to the size of the small teeth, researchers estimate this juvenile individual had a brain volume of 363 cm³. Also found were more than 20 fragments of the left hand. Tobias and Napier assisted in classifying OH 7 as the type fossil.

OH 24[edit]

OH 24 (Twiggy) is a roughly deformed cranium about 1.8 million years old discovered in October 1968 at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. The brain volume is just under 600 cm³; also a reduction in a protruding face is present compared to members of more primitive australopithecines.

KNM ER 1805[edit]

KNM ER 1805 is a specimen of an adult H. habilis made of three pieces of cranium dating to 1.74 million years old from Koobi Fora, Kenya. Previous assumptions were that this specimen belongs to H. erectus based on the degree of prognathism and overall cranial shape.

Interpretations[edit]

Reconstruction of Homo habilis at the Westfälisches Museum für Archäologie, Herne
Homo habilis - Forensic facial reconstruction/approximation

Homo habilis is thought to have mastered the Lower Paleolithic Olduwan tool set which used stone flakes. These stone flakes were more advanced than any tools previously used, and gave H. habilis the edge it needed to prosper in hostile environments previously too formidable for primates. Whether H. habilis was the first hominid to master stone tool technology remains controversial, as Australopithecus garhi, dated to 2.6 million years ago, has been found along with stone tool implements at least 100,000 - 200,000 years older than H. habilis.

Most experts assume the intelligence and social organization of H. habilis were more sophisticated than typical australopithecines or chimpanzees. Yet despite tool usage, H. habilis was not the master hunter its sister species (or descendants) proved to be, as ample fossil evidence indicates H. habilis was a staple in the diet of large predatory animals, such as Dinofelis, a large scimitar-toothed predatory cat the size of a jaguar.[12]

H. habilis used tools primarily for scavenging, such as cleaving meat off carrion, rather than defense or hunting. This species is thought to be the ancestor of the lankier and more sophisticated Homo ergaster, which in turn gave rise to the more human-appearing species Homo erectus. Debates continue over whether H. habilis is a direct human ancestor, and whether all of the known fossils are properly attributed to the species.

Homo habilis coexisted with other Homo-like bipedal primates, such as Paranthropus boisei, some of which prospered for many millennia. However, H. habilis, possibly because of its early tool innovation and a less specialized diet, became the precursor of an entire line of new species, whereas Paranthropus boisei and its robust relatives disappeared from the fossil record. H. habilis may also have coexisted with H. erectus in Africa for a period of 500,000 years.[13]

Evolutionary biologist Jeremy Griffith has drawn parallels between H. habilis and the psychological developmental evolution of modern humans as a manifestation of Ernst Haeckel's theory of ontogeny being a summarised recapitulation of phylogeny, suggesting elements of the phenotype of H. habilis relate to early adolescence (12-13 years of age) in modern humans.[14]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ New York Times article Fossils in Kenya Challenge Linear Evolution published August 9, 2007 says "Scientists who dated and analyzed the specimens — a 1.44 million-year-old Homo habilis and a 1.55 million-year-old Homo erectus — said their findings challenged the conventional view that these species evolved one after the other. Instead, they apparently lived side by side in eastern Africa for almost half a million years."
  2. ^ Wood and Richmond; Richmond, BG (2000). "Human evolution: taxonomy and paleobiology". Journal of Anatomy 197 (Pt 1): 19–60. doi:10.1046/j.1469-7580.2000.19710019.x. PMC 1468107. PMID 10999270.  p. 41: "A recent reassessment of cladistic and functional evidence concluded that there are few, if any, grounds for retaining H. habilis in Homo, and recommended that the material be transferred (or, for some, returned) to Australopithecus (Wood & Collard, 1999)."
  3. ^ a b Australian Museum: http://australianmuseum.net.au/Homo-habilis.
  4. ^ Brown, Graham; Fairfax, Stephanie; Sarao, Nidhi. Tree of Life Web Project: Human Evolution. Link: http://tolweb.org/treehouses/?treehouse_id=3710.
  5. ^ Tattersall, I. & Schwartz, J.H., Extinct Humans, Westview Press, New York, 2001, p. 111.
  6. ^ F. Spoor, M. G. Leakey, P. N. Gathogo, F. H. Brown, S. C. Antón, I. McDougall, C. Kiarie, F. K. Manthi & L. N. Leakey (2007-08-09). "Implications of new early Homo fossils from Ileret, east of Lake Turkana, Kenya". Nature 448 (7154): 688–691. doi:10.1038/nature05986. PMID 17687323. 
  7. ^ F. Spoor, M. G. Leakey, P. N. Gathogo, F. H. Brown, S. C. Antón, I. McDougall, C. Kiarie, F. K. Manthi & L. N. Leakey (2007-08-09). "Implications of new early Homo fossils from Ileret, east of Lake Turkana, Kenya". Nature 448 (7154): 688–691. doi:10.1038/nature05986. PMID 17687323.  "A partial maxilla assigned to H. habilis reliably demonstrates that this species survived until later than previously recognized, making an anagenetic relationship with H. erectus unlikely" (Emphasis added).
  8. ^ Donald C. Johanson, Fidelis T. Masao, Gerald G. Eck, Tim D. White, Robert C. Walter, William H. Kimbel, Berhane Asfaw, Paul Manega, Prosper Ndessokia & Gen Suwa (21 May 1987). "New partial skeleton of Homo habilis from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania". Nature 327 (6119): 205–209. doi:10.1038/327205a0. PMID 3106831. 
  9. ^ Wood, Bernard (21 May 1987). "Who is the 'real' Homo habilis?". Nature 327 (6119): 187–188. doi:10.1038/327187a0. PMID 3106828. 
  10. ^ BBC - Dawn of Man (2000) by Robin Mckie| ISBN 0-7894-6262-1
  11. ^ Miller, J.M.A. (2000), "Craniofacial variation in Homo habilis: an analysis of the evidence for multiple species", American Journal of Physical Anthropology 112(1): p. 103–128.
  12. ^ Hillary Mayell. "Killer Cats Hunted Human Ancestors". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2008-02-15. 
  13. ^ James Urquhart (August 8, 2007). Finds test human origins theory "Finds test human origins theory". BBC News. Retrieved July 27, 2007. 
  14. ^ Griffith, Jeremy (2011). Freedom. Part 3:11B. ISBN 978-1-74129-011-0. Retrieved March 28, 2013. 

References[edit]

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Notes

The Unknown

We don’t know everything about our early ancestors—but we keep learning more! Paleoanthropologists are constantly in the field, excavating new areas, using groundbreaking technology, and continually filling in some of the gaps about our understanding of human evolution.

Below are some of the still unanswered questions about H. rudolfensis that may be answered with future discoveries:

1. Was Homo rudolfensis on the evolutionary lineage that evolved into later species of Homo and even perhaps our species, Homo sapiens?

2. Are Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis indeed different species, or are they part of a single, variable species? Or was one the ancestor of the other?

3. Are Homo rudolfensis fossils more like australopithecines than other Homo fossils, as some scientists have suggested?

4. How big was Homo rudolfensis? Was this species sexually dimorphic?

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The Unknown

We don’t know everything about our early ancestors—but we keep learning more! Paleoanthropologists are constantly in the field, excavating new areas, using groundbreaking technology, and continually filling in some of the gaps about our understanding of human evolution.

Below are some of the still unanswered questions about Homo habilis that may be answered with future discoveries:

1. Was H. habilis on the evolutionary lineage that evolved into later species of Homo and even perhaps our species, Homo sapiens?

2. Are H. habilis and Homo rudolfensis indeed different species, or are they part of a single, variable species? Or was one the ancestor of the other?

3. If H. habilis is not the ancestor of Homo erectus, how does it fit into our evolutionary tree?

4. H. habilis is one of the earliest members of the genus Homo. Was there a relationship between the origin of this genus and climate change – either with an increased period of climatic fluctuations, or major episodes of global cooling and drying leading to the spread of C4 grasslands?

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