Our ancestors are called “hominids”. The oldest hominid discovered so far is Sahelanthropus tchadensis, from Chad, which is about 7-million years old. This fossil has been nicknamed “Toumai” in the local Goran language. There are also several very old species that have been discovered in Kenya and Ethiopia.
While the exact shape of the human family tree is something scientists are still debating, the one thing that they mostly agree on is that humankind was born here in Africa.
In the Cradle of Humankind, about 1,000 hominid fossils have been discovered, spanning several million years.
The oldest hominid fossils from the Cradle are more than 3-million years old and belong to the genus Australopithecus. There were many species or types of Australopithecus, which lived in Eastern and Southern Africa.I do apologize for the quality of these photographs again as everything is behind glass and extremely difficult to photograph.
“Mrs Ples”, the famous fossil of a skull of an Australopithecus africanus, was discovered at the Sterkfontein Caves by palaeontologists Dr Robert Broom and John Robinson in 1947. “Mrs Ples” is about 2.1-million years old. In 1997, palaeontologist Professor Ron Clarke and his assistants Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe, discovered the full skeleton of an Australopithecus inside the Sterkfontein Caves, encased in breccia, a type of rock. This skeleton, called “Little Foot”, is still being excavated.
Note: There is a big controversy going on concerning Mrs. Ples. They now believe that it should actually be Mr. Ples as the hip and eyebrow structure give indications of this.
After Australopithecus came the genus Homo, to which we humans, Homo sapiens, belong. The earliest named Homo species is Homo habilis or “handy man”, which researchers believe made the first stone tools. Homo habilis emerged about 2-million years ago. After Homo habilis came, among others, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo floresiensis and Homo Sapiens – us.
These species lived in different parts of the world. Not all Homo species were direct ancestors of humans.
The human family tree has many branches, several of which broke off as species became extinct.
Modern humans, Homo sapiens, emerged only about 200,000 years ago. While older species of Homo, such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis, lived in Asia and Europe mostly, scientists believe that modern humans, like our most distant ancestors such as Toumai and the australopithecines, evolved here in Africa.