Credit: John Reader
By Rebecca Jacobson
When paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey discovered the 1.8 million-year-old Homo habilis in 1964, it was thought to be our first human ancestor. Because of its close proximity to stone tools, Homo habilis became known as the “Handy man.” Here was our first hunting, scavenging, tool-making, big-brained ancestor, Leakey said.
After “Lucy”, the older, ape-like Australopithecus afarensis, was uncovered in 1974,Homo habilis appeared to bridge the gap between older fossils and modern humans. It had smaller teeth and jaws, a bigger brain and more sophisticated hands than Lucy.
Human evolution had a nice clear line from Lucy 3.2 million years ago to Homo habilis toHomo erectus and finally Homo sapiens — us. Or so it seemed.
“It was wonderfully Darwinian,” said William Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. And, he added, it was likely wrong.
“Fifty years ago, it was pleasing and consistent that there was one early Homo form,” he said. “And it now appears to be much more complicated.”
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