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Homo habilis

Photograph of a Homo habilis cranium at three-quarter view.

Homo habilis

AAC Catalogue Number: 2004.1.18

Dates:  2.3-1.7 million years ago

Geographic Range: East Africa

Anatomical Features: Apelike, consistent with other semi-arboreal australopithecines.

Technology Used: Homo habilis utilized Mode I (Oldowan) industries.
Diet: Fruits and tubers likely comprised much of the diet of Homo habilis, as well as scavenged meat. Homo habilis likely ate more meat than preceding australopithecines
Other Info:
  • The distinction between Homo habilis and other Homo taxa, as well as their ability to travel long distances on foot, are both highly debated

Remaining Questions: 

  • To what degree should Homo habilis be considered arboreal?
  • Were they efficient bipeds like later hominins in the Homo genus?
  • Would it be more appropriate to consider Homo habilis a late australopithecine as opposed to an early member of the Homo genus? How do scientists make this distinction between taxa?

Description from Bone Clones:

“1.9 MYA. The Homo habilis skull KNM-ER 1813 was discovered by K. Kimeu in 1973 at Koobi Fora, Kenya, and described by R. Leakey in Nature in 1973. There is still controversy about this specimen’s classification, with some scientists opting to classify it as an australopithecine and others believing it is a species of Homo. Some paleoanthropologists have raised the possibility that KNM-ER 1813 is the female counterpart to the Homo rudolfensis KNM-ER 1470. While dated to the same time period and sharing some characteristics, KNM-ER 1813 has a much smaller face, brain and teeth than 1470. Other paleoanthropologists argue that its brain size of 510 cc (in contrast to 1470’s 750 cc) indicates a size difference too great to be due to sexual dimorphism and represents a separate species. Another view is that the differences among the various early Homo crania, including ER 1813 and ER1470, fall within the range of variation of a single species. It’s also not the case that this specimen is simply an immature version of H. rudolfensis, as the third molar appears to have been worn down. Instead, it has been suggested that it belongs in a category of Homo habilis, with which it shares similarities in tooth size and shape, cranium size, and face shape.”