The evolution was not like a business where one version of apeman was replaced by a new and improved version. It was a process of experimentation in which our ancestors evolved in several different directions. Thus for the past 5 million years, there were usually several different types of hominid species competing with each other.
So let us look at some of those different hominids that peopled the Earth, starting from the remote past and moving to the present.
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One of the earliest species of the apeman, dated as being 4.2m years old. They clearly walked upright, and to judge from the seeds found with its bones, the apeman was still spending much of its time in woodland and had not yet completely acclimatised to life on the open savannah.
Afarensis remains have been dated as being between 3m and 4m years old was little bigger than anamensis. They are mainly vegetarian. Interestingly, its skeletons vary from 1 to 1.5m in height, that suggests that species may have been dimorphic, like gorillas, which have large-bodied males who compete for access to groups of smaller females.
Another ape-like predecessor of modern humans, Africanus provided the first solid evidence that mankind’s roots were African and not Asian as many scientists then thought. Africanus thrived between 3.5m and 2.5m years ago. It was also vegetarian in diet.
Homo habilis means “handyman” were the first hominid species to make stone tools. Their anatomy is poorly understood due to a lack of specimens, even though the skulls have been found to have a brain capacity of about half that of modern man but twice that of australopithecine apemen.
The specimen of Homo erectus dated as being about 1.5m years ago, the fossil of Nariokotome boy was found. It appeared to have been 9 to 11 years old when he died. He was already 1.6m tall and might have been 1.9m if he had reached adulthood. Homo erectus were known to be highly active, a hunter on the savannah who needed to lose heat with maximum efficiency.
Remains of this thick-boned species were first found near Heidelberg. Heidelbergensis remains have been dated as being 400,000 to 500,000 years old was a hunter and a skillful weapon-maker to judge from the fine stone axes left near the sites where it killed and butchered animals such as rhinos.
Neanderthals had first appeared in Europe 250,000 years ago. They had thick-set, mighty hunters who survived at least two Ice Ages before abruptly disappearing from the continent about 35,000 years ago. Neanderthals buried their dead, suggesting they possessed spiritual beliefs and made highly sophisticated stone tools. DNA studies show that they have possessed the power of complex speech and red hair.
Homo Floresiensis were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. Flores man was only a meter high with a small brain. Its skulls, bone fragments and stone tools have been dated as being between 94,000 to 13,000 years old. Due to their tiny stature, they were nicknamed as Hobbit.
Homo sapiens or “wise man” is distinctive for its large brain, tool-making expertise, capacity for symbolic thought, use of language and ability to cooperate. Such attributes have made us formidable hunters, producers of great artistic works, and polluters on a vast scale. They have also brought us world domination. For the first time in the past 4m years, the planet has only one species of hominid: Homo sapiens!