Australopithecines and the first humans

We are gradually moving towards modern times, but have still some 1.5-2 million years to go! Tonight’s lecture was about the large group of different species, which can – generally spoken – be bundled into Australopithecines, and about Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis. These are the first ones who clearly walked on two legs and the first ones to make and use stone tools.

The time period between 2 and 4 million years is quite interesting, given that a whole range of different species possibly lived more or less during the same interval. Saying this, one needs of course to take into consideration that each of the age determinations for the different fossil finds has a large range of hundreds of thousands of years. This makes it really difficult to say that species lived at the same time in their specific niche and/or that they may even have overlapped. What it does show however is, that the diversity seems to have increased and that this increase in diversity coincided more or less with a change in global climate.

We have a small collection of skulls at the department, ranging from Sahelanthropus tschadensis to Homo neanderthalensis. Showing these to the students is always great fun, and makes it also easier to explain the differences in respect to skull and brain size development. A really nice website to learn more about different human fossil skulls is at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Here one can browse through pictures of all the human fossils found so far, and one can even look at them in 3D. Overall, the Smithsonian has loads of information to learn more about human evolution and is a real treasure trove!

And here is my link collection for today, some links are to English pages and some to Swedish pages. I hope this keeps my students busy until next week!

Australopithecus afarensis:

Australopithecus africanus:

Australopithecus sediba:

Australopithecus ghari


Homo habilis

Homo rudolfensis

And here are links to how isotopes can be used to decipher what hominids may have eaten:

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