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Timeline of significant hominin species

Skulls Timeline Skulls Timeline

Whilst all ancient human fossil specimens carry significance, we have put together a simple timeline to show you some important species. (Select the link or the graphic above.)

(Note: Ma refers to million years; ka refers to thousand years.)

As Tanya told us back in her overview on Human Evolution, the earliest part of the fossil record is quite sparse – we only have a few different bones from species that lived between four and seven million ago.

There is ongoing debate about how we classify the hominin family. The way that researchers have depicted the ‘Tree of Life’ over the years tells its own tale about the evolving complexity of the story of our origins. A tree with a single trunk? A bush with multiple stems? Something else altogether? (Wood and Boyle, 2016).

Not all researchers agree as to whether some fossils should be classified into one species or another species. Remember that we do not often have the luxury of a complete skeleton to investigate. Often we are drawing conclusions from various bits and pieces – skull fragments, or mandibles, or teeth, or a pelvis or femur. DNA is a modern tool that we can also use for evidence to support our classification, but DNA is not always obtainable from the fragments that are available.

Having a taxonomy, or structure by which the fossil evidence is arranged allows us to look at new finds within a context and to ask the question – where does this fit? Does it even fit at all?

As more evidence is uncovered, we will continue to test and challenge and revise the way that we organise our past.

In this next short video, Rainer asks Chris why it is that today we have only one species on the planet.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Your task

What species do you find to be the most interesting, or significant, or challenging? Why?

Select the comments link below and let us know your thoughts.


Australian Museum (2016). Human Evolution

Reader, J. (2011). Missing Links: In search of human origins. Oxford University Press. New York.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (2018). What does it mean to be human? Introduction to Human Evolution.

Stringer, C. and Andrews, P. (2012). The Complete World of Human Evolution, 2nd Ed. Thames & Hudson.

Wood, B. & Boyle, E. K. (2016). “Hominin Taxic Diversity: Fact or Fantasy?” American Association of Physical Anthropologists. 159 37-78

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This article is from the free online course:

A Question of Time: How We Date Human Evolution

Griffith University