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The most famous example of afarensis was the skeleton of 'Lucy' discovered in 1974 at Hadar in Ethiopia. The species lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago and they were short and robust, with extremely thick bones, a long back and short legs. The hands and feet were probably closer to apes than modern man, but the big toe appears not to have the grasping ability common to apes.
Meaning 'handyman', Homo habilis was probably the first of our ancestors to use stone tools and thrived 2.2 - 1.6 million years ago. The species was discovered in Tanzania in 1960 and few other specimens have been found so we know relatively little about its anatomy. The size of the skull suggests that the brain capacity would be about half that of modern man.
Dating back around 1.5m years, the tall, cylindrical shape of Homo erectus suggests that the species must have been a highly active hunter on the savannah. The first specimen was discovered by Eugene Dubois at Trinil, Indonesia in October 1891.
The heyday of this stout, thick-boned species was probably around 400,000 to 500,000 years ago. Heidelbergensis - discovered in Heidelberg, Germany (hence the name) - was clearly an excellent hunter and an adept weapon-maker. Cuts and abrasions on the bones of deer, elephants, rhinos and horses demonstrate that they were hunted and butchered by this resourceful species.
Homo sapiens or 'wise man' has a large brain, capacity for abstract thinking, language skills and cooperative habits. Our exceptional creative talents are matched only by our capacity for destroying the environment around us. For the last 12,000 years we have been the only species of hominin on the planet and we may perhaps be the last...