The Elements of Evolution (61-2) Homo habilis

Homo habilis

A so-called “handy man” showed up in east Africa 2.3 million years ago: Homo habilis (2.3–1.4 MYA). H. habilis is assumed to be the direct descendant of Australopithecus garhi, which lived 2.5 MYA.

H. habilis was short, gracile, with long arms, though with a less protruding face than Au. garhi. Brain capacity was 600–700 cm2.

The stone flake tools made by H. habilis showed technical skill, though these tools were probably used for scavenging rather than hunting or defense. H. habilis was no master hunter. Instead, H. habilis frequently fell prey to large predators, such as Dinofelis, a jaguar-sized saber-toothed cat of the time.

Debate continues as to whether H. habilis was in the lineage that led to modern humans. When H. habilis was first declared, some fossil anthropologists wondered out loud whether there was enough evolutionary space between australopiths and later Homo for there to be a species in between (this when the idea of a single-species hominin lineage had its hold). Ironically, with more discoveries, the question was turned on its head: whether H. habilis as classified has too much variability to be a single species.