Homo habilis

Homo habilis is an archaic species of Stone Age human which lived between roughly 2.8 and 1.3 million years ago (mya), during the Early Pleistocene.[1] The species was first discovered by anthropologists Mary and Louis Leakey at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania in 1955, associated with the Oldowan stone tool industry.[2]

Homo habilis
Temporal range: 2.8–1.3 Ma
KNM ER 1813 (H. habilis).png
Reconstruction of KNM-ER 1813 at the Naturmuseum Senckenberg, Germany
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Family: Hominidae
Subfamily: Homininae
Tribe: Hominini
Genus: Homo
H. habilis
Binomial name
Homo habilis
Leakey et al., 1964

H. habilis is considered to be intermediate between Australopithecus afarensis and H. erectus. It has been suggested reclassifying the species as Australopithecus habilis, as one of the main arguments for its classification into Homo was the now outdated idea that it was the earliest human ancestor to use stone tools. H. habilis likely used tools for butchering meat which it scavenged from more fearsome carnivores.

H. habilis coexisted with other early hominins, such as the robust Paranthropus and Homo erectus.


Since its discovery, it has been argued that Homo habilis should be reclassified as Australopithecus habilis,[3][4] on the basis of small size and some rather primitive attributes .[5][6][7]

Cast of the type specimen OH 7

Louis and Mary Leakey first discovered H. habilis in 1955. It was first formally described by paleoanthropologists Mr. Leakey, Phillip V. Tobias, and John R. Napier on the basis of a jawbone with some teeth, parietal bone fragments, and hand bones of the 1.75 Ma juvenile OH 7. The species name habilis was given on recommendation by South African anthropologist Raymond Dart, and is Latin for "able, handy, mentally skillful, vigorous".[8]

The earliest specimen, LD 350-1, dating to 2.8 million years ago, was argued to be intermediate between Australopithecus and H. habilis.[9] The fossil was claimed as the earliest evidence of the genus Homo known to date. The individual in question lived just after a major climate shift in the region, when forests and waterways were rapidly replaced by arid savannah.[10]

Homo habilis is considered to be the ancestor of the more gracile and sophisticated H. ergaster (the African H. 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 various specimens of Australopithecus and Homo.[11] Since H. habilis and H. erectus coexisted, an isolated subpopulation of H. habilis may have evolved into H. erectus, and other subgroups remained as unchanged H. habilis until their extinction.[12]

The discoverers of the Georgian Dmanisi skull suggested that all the contemporary groups of early Homo in Africa–including H. ergaster, H. habilis, and H. rudolfensis–are all different stages in the evolution of H. erectus, making them a chronospecies.[13][14][13]


Reconstruction of the adult female KNM-ER 1813 by Élisabeth Daynès

H. habilis brain size has been shown to range from 550 cm3 (34 cu in) to 687 cm3 (41.9 cu in), rather than from 363 cm3 (22.2 cu in) to 600 cm3 (37 cu in) as previously[year needed] thought.[4][15] A virtual reconstruction published in 2015 estimated the endocranial volume at between 729 ml (25.7 imp fl oz; 24.7 US fl oz) and 824 ml (29.0 imp fl oz; 27.9 US fl oz), larger than any previously published value.[16] Their average brain size was about 45% greater than Australopithecus, and 25% greater than Paranthropus. H. habilis appears to have had an expanded cerebrum, unlike australopithecines, specifically the frontal and parietal lobes which govern speech in modern humans.[17] H. habilis had a less protruding face (less prognathism) than australopithecines.

H. habilis was smaller than modern humans, on average standing no more than 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in).[citation needed] It had proportionally longer legs than australopithecines, and was more similar to humans in this aspect.[18] However, the arms were more chimp-like and adapted for swinging and load bearing, unlike A. afarensis and other Homo.[19][20][21][22]

A 2018 study of the anatomy of A. sediba found that A. sediba is distinct from but closely related to both Homo habilis and Australopithecus africanus.[23]


Oldowan chopper

H. habilis is associated with the Lower Paleolithic Olduwan stone tool industry at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and Lake Turkana, Kenya. They likely used these tools to butcher and skin animals.[24] It was previously thought H. habilis was the first human ancestor to have used stone tools, but australopithecines have also been associated with tools, such as the 2.6 Ma A. garhi,[25] the 3.3 Ma Lomekwi stone tool industry,[26] and some evidence of butchering from about 3.4 mya.[27]

It is thought H. habilis used tools primarily for scavenging, such as cleaving meat off carrion, rather than defense or hunting (scavenger hypothesis). They may have been confrontational scavengers, stealing kills from the smaller predators of their environment such as jackals or cheetahs.[28] Fruit was likely also an important dietary component, indicated by dental erosion consistent with repetitive exposure to acidity.[29]

Based on dental microwear-texture analysis, H. habilis (like other early Homo) likely did not regularly consume tough foods. Microwear-texture complexity is, on average, somewhere between that of tough-food feeders and leaf feeders (folivores),[30] and point to an increasingly generalized and omnivorous diet.[31]

It is generally thought that the intelligence and social organization of H. habilis were more sophisticated than typical australopithecines or chimpanzees.[citation needed] H. habilis' proportionally longer legs may indicate long distance travel.[18]

A 2016 study found that tooth striations made while eating food generally veered from left down to the right, and considered this evidence of handedness. Handedness is correlated with major brain reorganisation and the processing of language on the left side of the brain.[32]


Forensic reconstruction at the Westphalian Museum of Natural History, Germany

H. habilis and other hominins were likely predated upon by the large carnivores of the time, such as the hunting hyena Chasmaporthetes nitidula, the leopard, the saber-toothed cats Dinofelis and Megantereon,[33] and possibly crocodiles such as Crocodylus anthropophagus.[34]

Homo habilis coexisted with other hominins, namely Paranthropus. H. habilis may have outlived Paranthropus due to advanced tool use.[35] H. habilis may also have coexisted with H. erectus about 1.8 mya.[36][37]

See alsoEdit


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