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Hominid Facts For People Who Love History And Science

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Human beings have originated from hominids.

Hominids include all the extinct great apes, modern humans, and other species of primates. The only species of hominids who are still living today are human beings.

The evolution of early primates to the modern-day homo sapiens belonging to the hominid family is known as the hominid evolution. People who study early humans and their evolution are known as paleoanthropologists. This field is a branch of anthropology that helps us to understand the origins as well as the developments of the earliest humans on Earth.

It is important to understand that evolution is a never-ending process and gradually results in the extinction of old animals and the formation of newer ones. Evolution occurs when there is a passing over of the best genes from parents to offspring. This usually takes thousands of years to give rise to a completely new organism.

This gradual process of human evolution includes the last separation of the common ancestors of humans and is characterized by developmental, physiological, morphological, behavioral, and environmental changes. Due to a lack of food sources and an increased rate of competition among organisms, adaptive radiation of animals, including humans, takes place. This results in the interbreeding of the different species, which further leads to the mixing of the gene pool and the development of completely new individuals.

Australopithecus, the oldest hominid species unearthed, appeared in Kenya and Ethiopia about 4.2 million years ago. The earliest documented specimen of the genus Homo is the species of Homo habilis. Their evolution took place about 2.8 million years ago, and they were perhaps the early humans to use stone tools. The brains of these early hominids were similar to those of the chimpanzee in terms of size.

Homo erectus, on the other hand, came much later than these primates and were the first to discover fire and its various uses. They existed about 1.5 million years ago in Africa and were highly opportunistic in nature. Several pieces of evidence suggesting the controlled use of fire have been obtained. Their fossils suggest that they had bigger brains with broader foreheads, which indicate the ability to acquire more learning skills and adapt to changing environments. Their jaws were no longer elongated with a pointed snout. This type of jaw, which exists in chimpanzees and orangutans, is called a prognathous jaw.

Keep on reading to learn more fascinating facts about the hominids and their evolution.

Characteristics Of Hominid

Hominids constitute all the early humans closely related to the ancient Great Apes and other early members. Chimpanzees are the common ancestor of early humans. The primary characteristics of the distinct species of hominids include bipedalism, which means all of these species could walk on their legs and have an intelligent quotient. The latter fact is derived from their large skulls retrieved from caves. This suggests that the hominids had a large brain size with great intelligence. Since the chimpanzees and gorillas are not bipedal, they are not technically categorized under the hominid family.

With the discovery of the skull remains of other early humans, researchers have established the fact that the skull case increased with time in order to accommodate the large brain. The shape of the skull has also changed over time. Bigger brains indicate the ability to acquire more learning skills and adapt to changing environments. The skulls retrieved later were rounder with the presence of a broad forehead. The researchers laid out various reconstructions of these early humans, highlighting their faces to be somewhat flattered with short noses. Their jaws and teeth were also smaller compared to the earliest species of apes. On the other hand, early Neanderthals had a Large brow ridge along with a low forehead.

The jaws and teeth suggest that these hominids were rich meat-eaters and relied on different animal and bird species for food. Homo erectus, a comparatively new species of hominids, were able to control fire and, therefore, indulged in roasting raw meat. It was a fundamental change to the human diet as cooking resulted in the release of nutrients and the elimination of plant toxins and bacteria. Furthermore, a diet full of meat helped their intestines to digest food faster, which was followed by the release of a large amount of energy.

From the reconstruction of the skull remains of hominids, the anatomical structure suggests that they were able to walk upright. The foramen magnum, which connects the brain and the spinal cord, is located at the skull bottom instead of attachment to the back. This made it possible for them to see straight ahead.

The vertebrae of hominids were different in shape and size. These bones are larger at the bottom and smaller at the top. The spine was also flexible and able to curve, which suggests the fact that their back was in an upright position well supported their body weight.

The thigh bone or femur formed angles towards their knees, from which we know that their body was well stabilized against the force of gravity. However, back pain and other problems related to bones were common in the hominids, just like modern-day humans. It is mainly because of the gravitational effect.

History And Evolution Of Hominid

The evolutionary tree of hominids involves the earliest primates like the Homo erectus, Homo Habilis, Neanderthal man, and other ancestors of apes. The common similarity between these hominids was their ability to walk on two legs; therefore, though the earliest ancestors of humans, the chimpanzee, and other apes do not belong to the hominid category as they are not bipedal creatures.

The earliest documented member of the genus Homo is the species of Homo Habilis. Their evolution took place about 2.8 million years ago, and they were perhaps the early humans to use stone tools. The brains of these early hominids were similar to those of the chimpanzees in terms of size.

The following millions of years observed a great level of encephalization. During this period, a new genus of Homo ergaster came into being, followed by the occurrence of Homo erectus, according to the fossil records. Their cranial capacity became almost double what existed in the previous species of the evolutionary tree. Also, they were the first ancestors who underwent adaptive radiation spreading throughout Asia, Europe, and Central Africa, between 1.3 to 1.8 million years ago.

About 50000 to 100000 years ago, the local populations of Homo erectus evolved into Homo Rhodesiensis or Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis. In between, Homo neanderthalensis originated in Eurasia about 400,000 years ago. Recent studies have shown that haplotypes, which are a group of genetic alleles inherited by the offspring from their single parent, came from Neanderthal origin. These early ancestors, along with other hominids like the Denisovans, have contributed nearly about 6% of their genetic information to modern-day humans, according to the research conducted on their fossils by scientists. This was mainly due to the limited scope of interbreeding between species.

Many scientists claim that the transition to present-day cognitive and behavioral skills, along with the development of language, and symbolic culture among these early humans, took place about 50,000 years ago.

The evolution of the Homo Habilis species took place during the Late Pliocene period. It is this time when these species diverged from the Australopithecines. They had larger brains and smaller molars. These early humans used animal bones to make the tools and weapons that they used to hunt down animals and also to protect themselves. Homo rudolfensis remains found in Kenya are thought to have been among the species of Homo Habilis. 

Eugene Dubois, a Dutch physician, discovered the first fossils of Homo erectus back in the year 1891 on an island in Java. Years later, a German physician Franz Weidenreich studied these fossil remains and named them Pithecanthropus erectus. Peking man is a famous example of Homo erectus. They were thought to be residents of Asia, Africa, and also Europe.

Another evolution of the early humans comes from the Heidelberg Man (H. heidelbergensis). They existed about 800,000 to about 300,000 years ago. According to scientists, there are distinct characteristics of the anatomy of these related humans. However, the Neanderthals had a larger body and brain mass.

Homo sapiens emerged about 300,000 years ago in Africa for the first time. Several pieces of evidence suggest that the migration of H. Erectus took place in Africa, and from them, the new species of Homo sapiens emerged.

Modern-day humans came from the earliest hominids.

Hominid Vs. Humans

The Hominid group consists of all the extinct great apes, modern humans, and other species of primates. In contrast, humans or Homo sapiens belong to the group of Homini, which also includes the Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and Ardipithecus.

Both these two terms are derived from the classification system of Apes laid by the scientific community. In a way to put it simply, hominids are human-like species that are intelligent and bipedal. The only species of hominids who are still living today are human beings. The species which got extinct a million years ago are Homo Habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo neanderthalensis.

As chimpanzees, orangutans, and other monkey species are not bipedal, they cannot be placed under the hominid group. The important five types of hominids that we know today are Australopithecus Afarensis, Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis, and Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

The knowledge of fire and tools and how to make these from the natural elements available in the surroundings came from the ancestral hominids. The stone tools that are retrieved by the researchers are at least 2.6 million years old and are the earliest known evidence of tools. These are mostly cores, simple stone flakes, and hammerstones, which suggest that they used these for hunting down animals and birds. These were also used as a basic toolkit to pound, cut, crush and avail new foods, including the flesh of large animals.

Large animals were butchered by early humans as long as 2.6 million years ago. However, there are several pieces of evidence that suggest they may have scavenged the kills from wild predators like lions, leopards, tigers, and cheetahs.

Unlike hominids, humans use language as a mode of communication and expressing their feelings. The development of art and other representational techniques, like drawing, painting, engraving, ceramics, sculpture, and stenciling, is practiced by humans. Highly complex artworks, as well as the imagination power, allows humans to portray their thoughts and feelings, unlike hominids. In the earlier days, humans used to communicate with symbols or noises of different kinds, just like the wild animals of the jungle.

Human beings started with animal domestication for the first time since their origin. The rise of domestication number has been increasing with each passing day. Also, humans are the only animal species who are dependent on parenting for a long time to care for their needs, including feeding. Scientists have recorded that new enamel layers grow on a daily basis in the H. sapiens species.

FAQs

Q. Who was the first hominid?

A. Ardipithecus is the oldest known hominid whose remains have been found in Ethiopia. They were present about 5.8 million years ago.

Q. What are the five hominids?

A. The 5 hominids are:

Australopithecus Afarensis

Homo Habilis

Homo Erectus

Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis

Homo Sapiens Sapiens

Q. What is the meaning of hominid?

A. Hominid is a group that contains all extinct and modern Great Apes. This includes gorillas, chimpanzees, Orang-utans, and humans, along with all their immediate ancestors.

Q. Which is the oldest hominid species to be unearthed?

A. The oldest hominid species unearthed was Australopithecus, which appeared in Kenya and Ethiopia about 4.2 million years ago. These species had ape-sized brains and were completely bipedal primates. It should be noted that an Anamnesis is the earliest species falling under this genus.

Q. Which hominid was the first believed to use fire?

A. Homo erectus was actually the first hominid species believed to use fire. They existed about 1.5 million years ago in Africa and were highly opportunistic in nature. Several pieces of evidence suggesting the controlled use of fire have been obtained. Two such shreds of evidence are the microscopic traces of volcanic ash and the finding of stone tools from the South African caves.

Q. What is the earliest form of a hominid found in the Americas?

A. Ardipithecus Kadabba is the earliest form of a hominid found in the Americas. Its fossil remains are estimated to be from six million years ago.

Q. What is hominid evolution?

A. The evolution of early primates to the modern-day homo sapiens belonging to the hominid family is known as the hominid evolution.

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