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Chapter 9

Hominin Origins


Pertaining to the Pliocene and first half of the

Pleistocene, a time range of 5 - 1 mya.
For this time period, numerous fossil
hominins have been found in Africa.

Miocene Hominoids



African forms (2314 mya)

Especially from western Kenya, these include
quite generalized and primitive hominoids.
European forms (1611 mya)
Known from widely scattered localities in
France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Austria, Germany,
and Hungary, most of these forms are quite
Asian forms (167 mya)
The largest and most varied group of Miocene
hominoids, they are dispersed from Turkey
through India and Pakistan to southern China.


In a quadruped, referring to that portion of the

body behind the head.
In a biped, referring to all parts of the body
beneath the head.

Traditional Hominoid

Revised Hominoid

Bipedal Adaptation

Bipedal locomotion freed the hands for

carrying objects and for making and
using tools.
Bipedal walking is an efficient means of
covering long distances, and when large
game hunting came into play, further
refinements in the locomotor complex
may have been favored.

Ossa Coxae (pelvis)

(a) Homo sapiens.

(b) Early hominin
from South Africa.
(c) Great ape.

Habitual Bipedalism

Bipedal locomotion as the form of locomotion

shown by hominins most of the time.

Obligate Bipedalism

Bipedalism as the only form of hominin

terrestrial locomotion.
Since major anatomical changes in the spine,
pelvis, and lower limb are required for bipedal
locomotion, once hominins adapted it, other
forms of locomotion on the ground became

Major Features of Hominin


The foramen magnum (shown in red) is repositioned

farther underneath the skull, so the head is more or
less balanced on the spine (and requires less robust
neck muscles to hold the head upright).

Major Features of Hominin


The spine has two distinctive curvesa backward

(thoracic) one and a forward (lumbar) onethat keep
the trunk (and weight) centered above the pelvis.

Major Features of Hominin


The pelvis is shaped in the form of a basin to

support internal organs; the ossa coxae are shorter
and broader, thus stabilizing weight transmission.

Major Features of Hominin


Lower limbs are elongated, as shown by the

proportional lengths of various body segments.

Major Features of Hominin


The femur is angled

inward, keeping the
legs more directly
under the body;
modified knee
anatomy also
permits full
extension of this

Major Features of Hominin


The big toe is enlarged and brought in line with the

other toes; in addition, a distinctive longitudinal arch
forms, helping absorb shock and adding propulsive

Position of the Foramen




Note the more

forward position of
the foramen
magnum in the
human cranium.

3 Major Early Hominins from


Pre-australopiths the earliest and most

primitive hominins (7.04.4 mya)
Australopithsdiverse forms, some more
primitive, others highly derived (4.21.0 mya)
Early Homo the first members of our
genus (2.41.4 mya)

Pre-Australopiths (7.0 4.4 mya)

Cranium usually only bone found

Cranial slope, braincase size, crest, browridges
Muscle attachments are rear of skull (neck/jaw)
Teeth/dentition, thin enamel on molars
Foramen magnum position/orientation
Are they apes or hominins?
Post-cranial elements lacking, cannot determine
locomotion behavior
Dating techniques only enable provisional assignment to

Key Pre-Australopith Discoveries

Estimated Body Weights in PlioPleistocene Hominins



A. afarensis

45 kg (99 lb)

29 kg (64 lb)

A. africanus

41 kg (90 lb)

30 kg (65 lb)

South African

40 kg (88 lb)

32 kg (70 lb)

East African

49 kg (108 lb)

34 kg (75 lb)

H. habilis

52 kg (114 lb)

32 kg (70 lb)

Estimated Stature in Plio-Pleistocene



A. afarensis

151 cm (59 in.) 105 cm (41 in.)

A. Africanus

138 cm (54 in.) 115 cm (45 in.)

South African

132 cm (52 in.)

110 cm (43

East African

137 cm (54 in.) 124 cm (49 in.)

H. Habilis

157 cm (62 in.) 125 cm (49 in.)

Earlier More Primitive Australopiths

(4.23.0 mya)

Australopiths diverse and very successful

group of hominins made up of two closely
related genera:
Longest enduring hominin yet documented.
Most widely distributed early hominin
Most studied

Major features that all

Australopiths share

Are clearly bipedal (although not

necessarily identical to Homo in this
Have relatively small brains (at least
compared to Homo).
Have large teeth, particularly the back
teeth, with thick to very thick enamel
on the molars.


An early hominin genus, known from the PlioPleistocene of Africa, characterized by

bipedal locomotion, a relatively small brain,
and large back teeth.
Australopithecine The colloquial name for
members of the genus Australopithecus.

Australopithecus afarensis

Several hundred specimens, representing a minimum

of 60 individuals have been excavated at Laetoli and
A. afarensis is less evolved than later-occurring
hominin species and shares more primitive features
with early hominoids and living great apes than do
later hominins.
A. afarensis were obligate bipeds, which would have
hampered their climbing but would not have kept them
out of the trees.

Later More Derived Australopiths

(2.51.0 mya)

Following 2.5 mya, hominins became

more diverse in Africa. Adapted to
various niches and are more derived.
3 separate lineages of hominins
Paranthropus A hominin genus characterized by very
large back teeth and jaws (highly derived, 3 species,
sagittal crest, rough vegetable foods)
Australopithecus africanus A late Australopith found at
sites in southernmost Africa (big toothed, small brained)
Homo at least two coexisting

Early Homo (2.41.4 m ya)

Homo habilis A species of early Homo, well

known from East Africa but possibly also
found in other regions.
Refers to those found at Olduvai
Known as handy man

Cranial Capacity of Early Hominins

and Contemporary Hominoids

Lower Paleolithic Period

Begins with the oldest identifiable stone tools

around 2.6 mya and end about 200,000 ya.
Two major stone tool industries:
Oldowan: oldest identified tools
Acheulian: begins around 1.4 mya

Oldowan (2.6 1.4 MYA)

Oldest recognized hominin tools.

Tool-assisted gatherers and meat scavengers
Named for Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.
Tools made by hard hammer percussion (also called
direct percussion).
Assemblages consist mostly of:
Core forms: Choppers & cores.
Expedient tools

Hard Hammer Percussion

Oldowan Tool Assemblage

A Tentative Early Hominin Phylogeny

Steps in Interpreting Evolutionary


Selecting and surveying sites.

Excavating sites and recovering fossil
Designating individual finds with specimen
numbers for clear reference.
Cleaning, preparing, studying, and describing
Comparing with other fossil material.
Comparing fossil variation with ranges of
variation in related groups of living primates.
Assigning taxonomic names to fossil material.