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Homo habilis is a hominid species that lived between 1.2 and 1.5 million years ago. Jonathan Leaky found the first specimen of this genus in 1960 in Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge and named it OH 7. Because of its ability to use its paws, the animal is also known as the "handyman." The species' Latin name, habilis, comes from the characteristics of being handy, qualified, and capable. Homo habilis is thought to be one of the first animals in the genus Homo. Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa are among the other countries where the species' fossil remains have been found (Dalling p72). Mainly, the fossils are a representation of the skull (cranial), the dental/teeth, and the skeletal below the cranium. The morphology of the cranium, in relation to size and shape of Homo habilis is considerably different from that of the Australopithecus. However, it shares most of the traits with its ancestor in the genus Australopithecus. The close similarity in the postcranial skeletal shows that the Homo habilis was much similar to the Australopithecus (Frederick E. Grine p143).
When compared to its predecessor, the species seem to have a much bigger brain capacity, estimated at around 680 cubic centimetres. The big brain capacity shows that the species was able to think. They also displayed a slanting forehead and the bony region just above the eye sockets was quite enlarged. Unlike the Australopithecus, the jaws and the face of this species were smaller.
Most of the fossil remains of the Homo habilis were discovered in Kenya and Tanzania, both located in the northeastern part of the African continent (Matt Cartmill p11). At the time of discovery, these areas were mainly of semi-arid grasslands with intervals of woodlands. Palaeontologists believe that many species of the early man had inhabited the woodlands, which is evident in the remains of the Homo habilis. Another evident that the Homo habilis had inhabited the grasslands is the nature of their foot bone, which shows an adaptation to walk upright. The upright stature was useful for them to wonder the tall grasses. Their legs also showed muscle attachment, a structure that would enable them to invert their feet and facilitate climbing of trees.
At the time of the evolution of Homo habilis, the traditional forest foods such as fruits were already becoming scarce. Therefore, the species was forced to find alternative sources of food to supplement their nutritional needs. Meat became a part of their diet. The meat was mainly obtained by scavenging on the carcases of animals. They were not good hunters and were equally not willing to take the risk of snatching meat from fearless hunters (BBC, October 2014).
Homo habilis are believed to be the first of man’s ancestors to manufacture tools from stones. This important step shows a great change in their mental abilities and consequently a positive change towards finding new strategies for survival. The very first tools included the choppers, scrapers, and core tools (Matt Cartmill p12).
It is also believed that Homo habilis is one of the oldest member species of the genus Homo. Yet some evidence claim that the species might have shown quite similar characteristics to species belonging to the genus Australopithecus. By considering the shape and size of the body, manner of movement, mastication, and the size of the brain, some scientists feel that the adaptive strategies of Homo habilis were more similar to those of Australopithecus compared to the modern man. As a result, they argue that homo habilis need to be classified under the genus Australopithecus. The debate between scientist is to establish what needs to be given priority between phylogeny and adaptive strategies when a proper definition if genus is to be arrived at (Instirute of Human Origins, 2008).
BBC. Science & Nature. 14 October 2014. .
Dalling, Robert. The Story of Us Humans, from Atoms to Today's Civilization. Lincoln: iUniverse, 2004.p72
Frederick E. Grine, John G Fleagle, Richard E. Leakey. The First Humans: Origin and Early Evolution of the Genus Homo. Springer, 2009.p143
Instirute of Human Origins. Becoming Human: Homo habilis. 2008. .
Matt Cartmill, Fred H. Smith. The Human Lineage. Wiley, 2009.p10-23
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