The First Humans – Origin and Early Evolution of the Genus Homo

Part of the series Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology pp 197-207

The First Humans: A Summary Perspective on the Origin and Early Evolution of the Genus Homo

  • Frederick E. Grine
  • , John G. Fleagle

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Origin, adaptation and diversity are eternal themes in human evolution. These issues are equally timeless with respect to our own lineage. Human paleontologists continue to grapple with questions surrounding the origin and early evolution of our own genus. How do we identify the earliest members the genus Homo? How many species of Homo were there in the Pliocene and Pleistocene, and how do they relate to one another? Where and when did they evolve? Other burning issues relate to questions about body size, proportions and the functional adaptations of the locomotor skeleton. When did the human postcranial “Bauplan” evolve, and for what reasons? What behaviors (and what behavioral limitations) can be inferred from the postcranial bones that have been attributed to Homo habilis and Homo erectus?

Other issues of signifi cance relate to growth, development and life history strategies, and the biological and archeo-logical evidence for diet and behavior in early Homo. Additional issues of importance pertain to the environmental and climatic context in which the genus Homo evolved. Were there global or pan-African climatic events that relate to the appearance and/or extinction of Homo species, and if so, can they be tied to the appearance or disappearance of these species in any meaningful way? Did Homo species live in environments that differed from those inhabited by earlier hominins, and can any general trends through time be inferred from paleontological and isotopic evidence?


Homo habilis Homo rudolfensis Homo erectus Africa Asia cranium dentition skeleton adaptation origin genus climate environment habitat Pliocene Pleistocene diet archeology development paleontology