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10 Extinct Hominids

        Science | Paleontology

6
Homo Habilis
The name Homo habilis comes from this species's nickname: "handy man." C. Ciglioni/DeAgostini/Getty Images
The name Homo habilis comes from this species's nickname: "handy man." C. Ciglioni/DeAgostini/Getty Images

Fossils of Homo habilis show evidence of long arms and a projecting face more similar to apes, but the species also had more humanlike traits than older species, including a larger brain and a smaller face and teeth [source: Smithsonian]. Perhaps members of this species adapted smaller teeth as they learned to eat more energy-efficient foods that required less chewing [source: Roberts].

Paleoanthropologists speculate that this species could be associated with the earliest known evidence of bones that had been cut and hammered. This would mean they ate meat and bone marrow, and dental evidence does not contradict this idea.

Although Homo habilis's name means "handy man," it may not have been the first hominid to make stone tools, as was once thought. We've found stone tools that date back to a period when several hominids existed, and they date earlier than the oldest known member of the genus Homo [source: Smithsonian].

Homo habilis lived 2.4 million to 1.4 million years ago across Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa, and you'll notice that this is the earliest example of the genus Homo. However, classifying it as thus required tweaking the definition of the genus by lowering the brain size requirement. In 2000, archaeologists discovered both a comparatively young habilis fossil at only 1.44 million years old and a slightly older Homo erectus at 1.55 million years old. Discovering these in the same region of northern Kenya suggests that these species didn't evolve one after the other, but rather co-existed [source: Smithsonian].