10 Extinct Hominids

Australopithecus Africanus
A bigger brain and smaller teeth set this hominid apart from its earlier ancestors. Regis Bossu/Sygma/Corbis

The species Australopithecus africanus holds a special place in the history of archaeology and paleoanthropology because its discovery and identification as an early hominid in the 1920s helped us identify Africa as the home of human ancestors.

Living between 3.3 million and 2.1 million years ago in South Africa, africanus had a bigger brain and smaller teeth than the older species afarensis. Its face is also shorter and more closely resembles a human face. Evidence from the long arms, mobile shoulders and large hands indicate the species could climb, but the leg, pelvis and foot bones suggest this species was also bipedal [source: Roberts].

Paleoanthropologists once thought this species to be a hunter and even called it the "killer ape" because of evidence of broken animal bones near the hominid fossils. However, experts now believe that, rather than being the hunter, africanus was likely the hunted. Other predators probably preyed on these animals found near africanus, and dental evidence suggests africanus mostly ate plants and probably insects and eggs [source: Smithsonian].

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