Taxonomy term


Lucy liked hanging out in trees

Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old human ancestor discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, is one of the most complete early hominin skeletons ever found. Still, despite the skeleton’s completeness, debate continues about how Lucy got around: Did she spend most of her time walking on the ground or climbing in trees? In a new study, scientists studying Lucy’s upper limb bones have found that she likely spent more time in trees — and was a more capable climber — than later hominin species like Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.

13 Apr 2017

Dental plaque reveals later start date for hominin cooking

Ancient teeth have long been a source of information about ancient diets, mainly through analyses of isotopic compositions and wear patterns. In a new study published in the Science of Nature, researchers studied microfossils of food particles extracted from the teeth of a 1.2-million-year-old unidentified hominin found at the Sima del Elefante site in northern Spain. The microfossils include traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules from grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine tree and insect fragments. The lack of charring of the recovered fibers and an absence of micro-charcoal suggest the bearer of the teeth neither cooked his or her food nor spent significant time around a fire source.

30 Mar 2017

Benchmarks: January 31, 1961: Ham the chimpanzee, first hominid in space

Early on the morning of Jan. 31, 1961, a chimpanzee named Ham, outfitted in a diaper, waterproof pants and a space suit, was sealed into a capsule and loaded onto a Mercury-Redstone 2 spacecraft in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Six hours later, Ham the Chimp, named after Holloman Aeromedical Research Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M., where he was trained, became the first hominid to travel into space.

31 Jan 2017

Redefining Homo: Does our family tree need more branches?

Paleoanthropologists have traditionally used four traits to classify hominins as members of the genus Homo. But none of the criteria are very stringent, leading to an assortment of hominins with widely varying features being counted in the same genus. Some researchers think it’s time to scrap Homo and start over.
21 Aug 2016

Hominid vs. hominin

Before genetics came along and revealed just how closely modern humans and chimpanzees are related, humans were classified in their own family, Hominidae, separate from old world monkeys, which were in the family Pongidae.

21 Aug 2016

New fossils illuminate 'hobbit' evolutionary history

Scientists first discovered fossils of Homo floresiensis — a species of extinct 1-meter-tall hominins nicknamed “hobbits” — in Liang Bua cave on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004. Until now, H. floresiensis, thought to have lived between about 95,000 and 50,000 years ago based on recent evidence, was the only extinct hominin known to have lived on Flores, although artifacts discovered on the island dating to 800,000 to 1 million years ago pointed to earlier hominin habitation. In two new studies published in Nature, however, researchers announce the discovery of hobbit-like hominin fossils found elsewhere on the island that are roughly 700,000 years old. 

08 Jun 2016

Ancient Indonesian tools made by mysterious inhabitants

The island of Sulawesi is one link in a chain of islands between mainland Asia and Australia, and was likely an important stepping stone in human dispersal from Eurasia through Oceania to Australia. Previous research has placed modern humans on Sulawesi as early as 40,000 years ago, but scientists have now dated a set of stone tools to at least 118,000 years ago, suggesting humans occupied the island far earlier than thought.

01 Jun 2016

China's Red Deer Cave people may have survived until the last ice age

In the 1980s, a collection of bones from very small hominids was excavated from a cave in southwestern China, alongside a number of bones from a species of large red deer. Nicknamed the “Red Deer Cave people,” but not yet declared a distinct species, researchers previously dated radiocarbon in the sediments where the bones were found to about 14,000 years ago. In a new comparative study, the same team has now found that the hominids from which the bones came appear to have been similar to — although far smaller than — Homo habilis and Homo erectus, suggesting it could indeed be a new species.

19 Apr 2016

Rising Star cave hominid walked its own way

After dozens of human-like fossils were discovered in a cave in South Africa last summer, they were declared distinct enough to be classified as a new species: Homo naledi. Two recent studies looking in detail at the new hominid’s hands and feet are revealing how different they were from other early humans.
30 Jan 2016

Spanish cave reveals possible new Neanderthal ancestor

A trove of thousands of hominin fossils unearthed from a prolific cave in northern Spain is proving a boon for paleoanthropologists studying human evolution and the early ancestors of Neanderthals. The fossils are proving difficult to categorize as a recognized species, however, raising the prospect of a new category of hominin for these Middle Pleistocene specimens.

19 Jun 2014