Human evolution



The common ancestor of modern humans and the great apes is estimated to have lived between 5 and 8 Myrs ago, but the earliest evidence in the human, or hominid, fossil record is Ardipithecus ramidus, from a 4.5 Myr Ethiopian site. This genus was succeeded by Australopithecus, within which four species are presently recognised. All combine a relatively primitive postcranial skeleton, a dentition with expanded chewing teeth and a small brain. The most primitive species in our own genus, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis, are little advanced over the australopithecines and with hindsight their inclusion in Homo may not be appropriate. The first species to share a substantial number of features with later Homo is Homo ergaster, or ‘early African Homo erectus’, which appears in the fossil record around 2.0 Myr. Outside Africa, fossil hominids appear as Homo erectus-like hominids, in mainland Asia and in Indonesia close to 2 Myr ago; the earliest good evidence of ‘archaic Homo’ in Europe is dated at between 600–700 Kyr before the present. Anatomically modern human, or Homo sapiens, fossils are seen first in the fossil record in Africa around 150 Kyr ago. Taken together with molecular evidence on the extent of DNA variation, this suggests that the transition from ‘archiac’ to ‘modern’ Homo may have taken place in Africa.