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9.1: What is a Hominin?

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    The family Hominidae of order Primates includes the hominoids: the great apes (Figure). Evidence from the fossil record and from a comparison of human and chimpanzee DNA suggests that humans and chimpanzees diverged from a common hominoid ancestor approximately 6 million years ago. Several species evolved from the evolutionary branch that includes humans, although our species is the only surviving member. The term hominin is used to refer to those species that evolved after this split of the primate line, thereby designating species that are more closely related to humans than to chimpanzees.

    Hominins were predominantly bipedal and include those groups that likely gave rise to our species—including Australopithecus, Homo habilis, and Homo erectus—and those non-ancestral groups that can be considered “cousins” of modern humans, such as Neanderthals. Determining the true lines of descent in hominins is difficult. In years past, when relatively few hominin fossils had been recovered, some scientists believed that considering them in order, from oldest to youngest, would demonstrate the course of evolution from early hominins to modern humans. In the past several years, however, many new fossils have been found, and it is clear that there was often more than one species alive at any one time and that many of the fossils found (and species named) represent hominin species that died out and are not ancestral to modern humans.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The Family tree of homo-sapiens

    What is a Hominin?

    A hominid is any ancestor of apes (including us); a homimin is any ancestor on only the human family tree. In order to adequately understand a discussion of hominin evolution and appreciate changes over time, some basic anatomical information is necessary. It is also necessary in order to distinguish primitive  or ape-like skeletal characteristics from those that are derived, i.e., those that arose later in time. What marks the human line is not big brains or tool use. It is bipedalism, the ability to walk on only two legs.

    Contributors and Attributions

    9.1: What is a Hominin? is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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