6 The Earliest Putative Hominids

  • Brigitte Senut
Reference work entry


Following the molecular studies, the hominid family has long been considered as emerging during the Pliocene. But today we have good evidence of hominids in the African Upper Miocene strata. However, reconstructing our earliest history is a difficult task as the Miocene data remain poorly known and fragmentary. Moreover, the tendency in anthropology to consider the modern chimpanzee as a good model for the last common ancestor of African apes and hominids has obscured our understanding of evolution because the apelike features are exclusively defined on the basis of a modern animal and not on those of Miocene hominoids. On the basis of detailed studies of Miocene apes and modern hominoids, it appears that bipedalism is probably the most reliable feature for defining hominids. Of the new hominoid taxa discovered in the Upper Miocene, only Orrorin tugenensis exhibits clear evidence of adaptation to bipedalism. At this stage, bipedalism in Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Ardipithecus kadabba still needs to be demonstrated. A common idea in hominoid evolution is that hominids emerged in dry, savannah-like environments; but the data gained from the Upper Miocene levels in Baringo (Kenya) clearly demonstrate that the environment of the earliest hominids was more forested and humid than expected. Finally, first discoveries of modern-looking apes have been made in 12.5Ma-old strata at Ngorora (Kenya) and 6-Ma old deposits at Kapsomin and Cheboit, indicating that the dichotomy between African apes and humans could be much older than generally thought.


Cheek Tooth Early Hominid Miocene Hominoid Nuchal Crest Postcanine Tooth 
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  • Brigitte Senut

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