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10: Early Members of the Genus Homo

  • Page ID
    • Bonnie Yoshida-Levine

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    Learning Objectives

    • Describe how early Pleistocene climate change influenced the evolution of the genus Homo.
    • Identify the characteristics that define the genus Homo.
    • Describe the skeletal anatomy of Homo habilis and Homo erectus based on the fossil evidence.
    • Assess opposing points of view about how early Homo should be classified.

    The boy was no older than nine years when he perished by the swampy shores of the lake. After death, his slender, long-limbed body sank into the mud of the lake shallows. His bones fossilized and lay undisturbed for 1.5 million years. In the 1980s, fossil hunter Kamoya Kimeu, working on the western shore of Lake Turkana, Kenya, glimpsed a dark-colored piece of bone eroding in a hillside. This small skull fragment led to the discovery of what is arguably the world’s most complete early hominin fossil—a youth identified as a member of the species Homo erectus. Now known as Nariokotome Boy, after the nearby lake village, the skeleton has provided a wealth of information about the early evolution of our own genus, Homo (see Figure 10.1). Today, a stone monument with an inscription in three languages—English, Swahili, and the local Turkana language—marks the site of this momentous fossil discovery.

    Front view of near-complete skeleton
    Reconstructed head and shoulders of a young Homo erectus.
    Figure 10.1a-b: a. Skeleton of a young male Homo erectus known as “Nariokotome Boy”; b. an artist’s depiction of how he may have looked during his life. This is the most complete hominin fossil from this time period ever found. Credit: a. KNM-WT 15000 Turkana Boy Skeleton by Smithsonian [exhibit: Human Evolution Evidence, Human Fossils, Fossils, KNM-WT 15000] is copyrighted and used for educational and non-commercial purposes as outlined by the Smithsonian. b. Homo-erectus Turkana-Boy (Ausschnitt) Fundort Nariokotome, Kenia, Rekonstruktion im Neanderthal Museum by Neanderthal Museum is under a CC BY-SA 4.0 License.

    Chapter 9 described our oldest human ancestors, primarily members of the genus Australopithecus, who lived between 2 million and 4 million years ago. This chapter introduces the earliest members of the genus Homo, focusing on Homo habilis and Homo erectus.

    Thumbnail:  Homo-erectus Turkana-Boy (Ausschnitt) Fundort Nariokotome, Kenia, Rekonstruktion im Neanderthal Museum by Neanderthal Museum is under a CC BY-SA 4.0 License.

    This chapter is a revision from Chapter 10: Early Members of the Genus Homo ” by Bonnie Yoshida-Levine. In Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology, first edition , edited by Beth Shook, Katie Nelson, Kelsie Aguilera, and Lara Braff, which is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0 .

    This page titled 10: Early Members of the Genus Homo is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Bonnie Yoshida-Levine (Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.