Early human finds

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Liang Bua cave, Flores, Indonesia
Liang Bua cave, Flores, Indonesia / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Outstanding finds of early humans and other species of humans around the world

Below is a unique list of the most important and interesting sites around the world where have been found remnants or traces of early humans, other species of humans and other hominins.

Africa

Oldupai Gorge, Tanzania
Oldupai Gorge / Noel Feans, / CC BY 2.0

Ethiopia

  • Middle Awash Valley – Ethiopia, Afar. Unique find of Middle Pliocene fossils (Bouri Formation). Here were discovered some of the oldest known hominins in the world – at least seven species. Greatest and most famous finds are remnants of Lucy – Australopithecus afarensis, 3,2 million years old hominin and Ardi – 4,4 million years old hominin Ardipithecus ramidus. Specialists here found valuable remnants of other extinct animals such as fossils of extinct elephantoids.
  • Omo I and Omo II sites – Ethiopia, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region. Here, in Kibish Formation were found very important fossils of early hominins. Humans (Homo sapiens) lived here some 195 thousand years ago.

Kenya

  • Koobi Fora fossil find – Kenya, Eastern Province. Pliocene – Pleistocene sediments near Lake Turkana. Scientists in this area found remnants of numerous hominins, who lived here over the last 4.2 million years. This rich find provided remnants of Homo rudolfiensis, Australopithecus anamensis, early stone tools as well as remnants of other mammals.
  • Olorgesailie – Kenya, Rift Valley Province. In this world-famous site were found numerous tools made by man 600 – 900 thousand years ago. These tools were made by Homo erectus – there have been found also remnants of these people. Specialists have found also numerous bones of now extinct animals, which, possibly, were hunted in this region.
  • Tugen Hills – Kenya, Rift Valley Province. Valuable find of fossils in a succession of deposits, which are between 14 and 4 million years old. Here have been found remnants of one of the oldest (6 million years old) bipedal hominins Orrorin tugenensis, as well as more recent hominins.

South Africa

  • Blombos Cave – South Africa, Western Cape. Sediments of this cave have helped to learn about the humans of Middle – Late Stone Age (100,000 – approximately 1000 BC).
  • Kokwane Prehistoric Footprints – South Africa, Limpopo Province. In this site are visible unusual footprints of animals and seemingly giant humans. Around the footprints are splashes of solidified rock what shows that this is not engraving or result of weathering. Nearby are some similar finds.
  • Langebaan Lagoon Footprints – South Africa, Western Cape. Approximately 117,000 years old human footprints in hardened sand-dune deposits. These are the oldest known modern human footprints in the world.
  • Malapa Fossil Site – South Africa, Gauteng. Here in a cave were discovered fossils of new species of hominin – Australopihecus sediba. This 1.9 – 2 million years old primate might be the link between the genus Homo and the earlier ape-man Australopithecus africanus.
  • Rising Star Cave – South Africa, Gauteng. In this cave were found remains of extinct, other species of humans which have been named (preliminary) – Homo naledi.
  • Sterkfontein – South Africa, Gauteng. This is the richest finds of early hominins in the world with remnants of some 500 hominins. Most are up to 2.3 million years old remnants of Australopithecus africanus. Here was discovered also the earliest species of humans – Homo gautengensis. Here are on-going longest continuously running fossil excavations in world which were started in 1966. There is also a small lake in the cave.
  • Swartkrans – South Africa, Gauteng. Extremely rich find of archaeological material, especially – remains of hominins, such as Telanthropus capensis, Homo habilis and Paranthropus which are up to 1.8 – 2 million years old. The oldest known evidence of the use of fire (some 1 million years old) is found here.

Tanzania

  • Laetoli footprints – Tanzania, Arusha. Unique find of human ancestor footprints in volcanic ash. These footprints were left some 3.6 million years ago by a pair of extinct human ancestors, most possibly Australopithecus afarensis. This is a proof of comparatively early walk on two feet by our human ancestors.
  • Oldupai Gorge (Olduvai Gorge) – Tanzania, Arusha. World’s most important source of information about the development of early humans. Paranthropus boisei lived here some 2.4 – 1.4 million years ago, Homo habilis – some 1.9 million years ago, Homo erectus – 1.2 million years ago, Homo sapiens – 17,000 years ago. Here were discovered some of the oldest stone tools in the world, signs of hunting.

Other African countries

  • Buia Fossils – Eritrea, Northern Red Sea. Rich find of early Pleistocene fauna and early hominins. Researchers have found here almost complete, nearly 1 million years old skull of a man which could be a transition, link between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens. Here have been found also remnants of Palaeoloxodon recki.
  • Djourab (Djurab) – Chad, Bourkou and Kanem. Here was found very old hominin – Sahelanthropus tchadensis, who, possibly, lived 7 million years ago. It is possible that this is the oldest hominin after the split between the ancestors of chimpanzees and humans.
  • Jebel Irhoud – Morocco, Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz. Site where the oldest fossils of modern human Homo sapiens were found. These humans lived here more than 300,000 years ago.
  • Matupi Cave – Congo DR, Orientale, Mount Hoyo. Important archaeological monument in Ituri rainforest. Sediments in this cave have recorded a sequence of human occupation lasting for the last 40,000 years. Here were found some of the oldest microlithic tools in the world which were used for arrows and saws. When these tools were made 12,000 years ago, here was savannah.

Asia

Zhoukoudian Cave, China
Zhoukoudian Cave / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

China

  • Red Deer Cave (Maludong) – China, Yunnan. In this cave and also in Longlin Cave (Guangxi) were discovered fossils of extinct human species or subspecies which lived only some 14,500 – 11,500 years ago. This could be the most recent other species of humans in the world.
  • Zhoukoudian – China, Beijing Municipality. This site is famous due to archaeological findings such as one of the first known specimens of other species of humans – Homo erectus, called also Peking Man. These humans lived here approximately 680,000 – 780,000 years ago. During the Upper Paleolithic here lived also modern humans. In the cave were found also remains of numerous extinct animals such as gigantic hyena Pachycrocuta brevirostris.

Indonesia

  • Liang Bua – Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara, Flores. In the cave (and only here) were discovered remnants of an extinct, recent species of human – Homo floresiensis.
  • Mata Menge – Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara, Flores. Find of other, dwarf species of humans which lived some 700,000 years ago and was even smaller than Homo floresiensis.
  • Sangiran Early Man site – Indonesia, Central Java. Since 1934 in this area have been discovered approximately 50% of the world’s fossils of human ancestors – hominoids. Very valuable have been also finds of the contemporaries of these hominoids – animals.

Other countries of Asia

  • Belilena – Sri Lanka, Sabaragamuwa. In this cave were found remnants of ten Balangoda people – local subspecies of people who lived here some 32,000 years ago (bones are some 16,000 years old). Cave contains some of the world’s oldest microliths which are up to 30,000 years old.
  • Callao Cave – Philippines, Cagayan. Enormous cave system with beautiful speleothems. This cave served as a burial site for Neolithic people. Here are the earliest known human remains in Philippines which are at least 67 thousand years old. It is possible though that these remnants have been left by another, extinct species of small humans. In this cave or another nearby cave are charcoal drawings of unknown age.
  • Denisova Cave – Russia, Altai Krai. This cave contains at least 125,000 years old artefacts left by ancient hominins. After a splinter of bone here has been identified new species of early humans – Denisova hominin or Denisovan.
  • Dmanisi find of hominins – Georgia, Kvemo Kartli. Oldest finds of hominins in Caucasus. Discovered skulls belong to the species Homo erectus and are 1.8 million years old. Analysis of these skulls has provided valuable knowledge about the development of human species.
  • Fa Hien Cave (Pahyanagala) – Sri Lanka, Western. Large cave where have been found remnants of the Late Pleistocene humans who lived here 33,000 years ago. Here and in some more sites in Sri Lanka were found the earliest known microliths. This is the oldest known settlement of indigenous type of humans – Balangoda Man.
  • Shanidar Cave – Iraq, Erbil. In this cave were found remains of ten Neanderthals who lived here 65,000 – 35,000 years ago. In the cave has been found evidence than Neanderthals had their burial rituals.

Australia and Oceania

  • Madjedbebe rock shelter – Australia, Northern Territory. Finds of the oldest known humans in Australia, 65,000 years old. Site contains world’s oldest ground-edge axes.
  • Ucheliungs Cave (Ucheliuns Cave) – Palau, Rock Islands. This cave starts in shallow sea water and contains 2,900 – 1,400 years old burial site of the early inhabitants of islands. Burials belong to extinct dwarf people, possibly weighing just 28 – 47 kg. Another local cave which contains remnants of those mysterious people is Omedokel Cave.
  • Willandra Lakes Region – Australia, New South Wales. Sediments of a relict lake system where some 40,000 years ago started to live people. This was a location where very advanced (for its time) group of people lived – here is located world’s oldest ritual cremation site (40,000 years old), locals developed stone tools and hunted numerous species of now extinct animals.

Europe

Stalagmite has covered a skull of hominin in Petralona Cave, Greece
Stalagmite has covered a skull of hominin in Petralona Cave, Greece / Nadia Petkova, / SA BY-SA 3.0

Spain and Gibraltar

  • Gorham’s Cave – Gibraltar, one of four caves in Gorham’s Cave complex. This cave formed in Jurassic limestone and has a 18 m thick layer of sediments. These sediments contain traces of the last Neanderthals who lived here 60 – 24 thousand years ago, when the sea was far away from the cave and area was rich with resources. This is the last known settlement of Neanderthals in the world. It seems, they created also an incision of eight lines at least 39,000 years ago – this is the oldest known abstract drawing in the world. 23 thousand years ago modern humans started to live here. They also left some paintings on the walls of cave. Phoenicians and Carthaginians used this cave as a shrine and left offerings here.
  • Sima del Elefant and Gran Dolina – Spain, Castile-Leon, Atapuerca Mountains. Here were found some of the oldest known hominins of Europe. An 1.1 – 1.2 million years old molar of human (possibly Homo antecessor) was found in Sima del Elefante, while in Gran Dolina have been found bone fragments and stone tools of Homo antecessor.
  • Sima del Huesos (Atapuerca Mountains) – Spain, Castile and Leon. Rich find of the earliest hominins in Western Europe. Here have been found remnants of Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis which could be up to 1,2 million years old. Cave contains remains of 28 individuals of H. heidelbergensis.

Other European countries

  • Bayraki Paleolithic site – Moldova, Transnistria. Site contains some of the oldest known traces of humans in Europe – 1.1 – 1.2 million years old (Early Paleolithic) flint tools from the Oldowan epoch.
  • Chokurcha – Ukraine, Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Large grotto – 50 thousand years old settlement of Neanderthals. Grotto reportedly contains unique cave paintings of this human species: these paintings show Sun, mammoth, fish. Unfortunately cave has been demolished and its cultural heritage to a large extent is lost. Site contains also remains of extinct animals.
  • Lamalunga Cave (Altamura Man) – Italy, Apulia. Sinkhole in this cave contains amazing find – extremely well preserved skeleton of Neanderthal which is between 128,000 – 187,000 years old. His bones are covered by the limestone deposits.
  • Petralona cave – Greece, Central Macedonia. This cave is approximately 2 km long and contains important finds of ancient hominins. Outstanding feature is a skull of hominin, most likely Homo erectus or Archanthropus europaeus who lived some 300,000 – 600,000 years ago. This skull has been crystalized and perched on a stalagmite. This find caused much scientific discussion because it clashes with the basic theories of early human history and distribution. Here were found also numerous fossils of existing and extinct animals.
  • Vindija Cave – Croatia, Varaždin. This cave has impressive, enormous entrance and contains some of the best preserved remnants of Neanderthal man who lived here 30,000 years ago. Remnants of Neanderthal from this cave used in Neanderthal genome project.

North America

  • Anzick Clovis burial – United States, Montana. This is the only known burial of Clovis culture which is approximately 13,000 years old.
  • Bluefish Caves – Canada, Yukon. In this group of three small caves was found mammoth bone which could be human-worked some 28,000 years ago. This might be a testimony of the so called Beringian standstill – a long period of time when people could not enter Americas further south due to the glaciation.
  • Meadowcroft Rockshelter – United States, Pennsylvania. This rock shelter contains the longest sequence of continuous human occupation in the New World which started 16,000 years ago (before the Clovis culture) and ended in the 18th century.

South America

Monte Verde archaeological site, Chile
Monte Verde archaeological site, Chile / Omardonesklein, / SA BY-SA 3.0
  • Monte Verde – Chile, X Los Lagos. This site contains prehistoric bog deposits with up to 18,500 years old traces of human activities. This predates well the Clovis culture – the supposed first people in Americas.

Described finds of early humans and other hominins

loading map - please wait...

Denisova Cave: 51.397385, 84.676480
Kalambo Falls: -8.596401, 31.239562
Milodon Cave (Cueva del Milodón): -51.564813, -72.619210
Gorham\'s Cave: 36.120418, -5.342137
Liang Bua: -8.530869, 120.443400

General description

In this category Wondermondo has included most important and unusual places with remains and other traces of activities by early humans (including other species of humans) and other hominins.

What are humans and hominins?

Well… the answer to this question is not simple. Let’s start with some…

…History of research

Some centuries ago people knew for sure: there are humans (us, the lovely us…) and there are animals. But since then step by step this border has been erased and nothing is as simple and clear as it seemed.

First, the great Carl Linnaeus in 1758 invented other species of humans – Homo troglodytes, cave man. No scientific data backed him up at these times… Only one century later, in 1856, science recognized a true "alternative" human – Homo neanderthalensis.

Entrance in Gorham's Cave, Gibraltar - the last refuge of Neanderthals
Entrance in Gorham’s Cave – the last refuge of Neanderthals / Gibmetal77, / CC BY 3.0

Later more and more humans and “almost humans” were discovered by scientists. Thus, in 1927 in China they discovered Sinanthropus pekinensis (now: Homo erectus pekinensis) but some years earlier, in 1924 in South Africa – Australopithecus africanus and in 1930ies – the more primitive Paranthropus.

But the most important finds were made in Kenya, in Olduvai Gorge. Here Hans Reck (1913) and later Louis Leakey (1931) discovered some 600 thousand years old remains of humans. Further research in this part of Africa as well as South Africa yielded the richest diversity of ancient humans anywhere in the world. Now it is clear: humans originated in Africa.

21st century brings new discoveries

Amazing finds continued elsewhere in the world, especially in the 21st century. In 2003 a new, surprisingly recent human species was discovered – the small Homo floresiensis on Flores island who lived here some 50,000 years ago. Further surprise was brought by Denisova cave in Altai Krai, Russia: in 2010 here was discovered evidence that in Eurasia some 40 thousand years ago lived one more species of humans next to Neanderthals and, possibly, modern humans. Research shows that interbreeding with both Neanderthals and Denisovans affected the human genome and there might be other unknown human species involved too.

Other humans

Today there is only one living species of "true" humans – us, Homo sapiens. But there existed other species in the past. How many? We don’t know…

Wondermondo can cautiously propose the following list of known other species of humans which here are listed by the time of their extinction:

Our species and other species of humans who lived outside Africa
  1. Our species – Homo sapiens with two more or less accepted subspecies: Homo sapiens sapiens (that’s us!) and the ancient, extinct Homo sapiens idaltu. The oldest known specimen of our species lived some 300,000 years ago in contemporary Morocco but most likely – elsewhere in Africa as well.
  2. Homo neanderthalensis was the first "other" human to be discovered because it lived in Europe, where in the 19th century developed modern natural sciences. It is not entirely clear whether this is subspecies or separate species but it interbred with our species and left impact on the genome of people outside Africa. Neanderthals evolved some 400,000 years ago and last of their kin lived in Gibraltar some 40,000 years ago.
  3. Denisovan (preliminarily – Homo sp. Altai) is another recent discovery from 2010. They lived in Asia and also interbred with other species of humans including our species. Thus they also left impact on our genome, especially on the contemporary Melanesians. Their last refuge could be some Indonesian islands although no remains have been found here yet. In Denisova Cave they lived some 100 – 40 thousand years ago but we don’t know their age too well yet.
  4. Homo floresiensis was an exciting find of scientists on the island of Flores in Indonesia in 2003. These small people ("hobits") lived some 190,000 – 50,000 years ago. It is possible that before them on Flores and some other islands of Southeast Asia lived even smaller people.
  5. “Upright human” (Homo erectus) existed before Homo heidelbergensis although scientists are not too sure where one species transformed into another. These people lived in Africa some 1.9 million years ago, spread to Asia and went extinct some 143,000 years ago.
  6. Homo heidelbergensis lived some 600,000 – 200,000 years ago. This human might be the ancestor of us, Neanderthals and Denisovans. He lived in Africa, Europe and Asia.
  7. Homo antecessor lived some 1.2 million – 800,000 years ago. This might be the same Homo heidelbergensis or its predecessor. These people lived in Africa and migrated to Europe.
Species of other species of humans who lived only in Africa
  1. “Rhodesian man” (Homo rhodesiensis) lived in Africa some 300,000 – 125,000 years ago. It is very possible that this is African subspecies of Homo heidelbergensis. This might be also the direct predecessor to us, Homo sapiens.
  2. Homo naledi was described only in 2015. This comparatively primitive man lived in the time period between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago in Africa.
  3. Florisbad Skull might belong to Homo helmei which is either early Homo sapiens, late Homo heidelbergensis or intermediate species in between. This skull was found in South Africa and is some 260,000 years old.
  4. Homo gautengensis was described in 2010 and many scientists are not sure whether this is a separate species or subspecies of Homo erectus. It lived some 1.9 – 0.6 million years ago.
  5. Homo ergaster lived some 1.9 – 1.4 million years ago in the eastern and southern parts of Africa. This also might be our predecessor who transformed into Homo erectus… or it simply is Homo erectus.
  6. The controversial Homo rudolfensis is possible other species of humans who lived some 2 – 1.5 million years ago in Africa. It also could be a subspecies of Homo habilis.
  7. Homo habilis lived in Africa some 2.1 – 1.5 million years ago and could be the oldest known species of humans.

Who lived before humans?

Thus: earlier existed other animals which were closer to us than to our closest living relative – chimpanzees. It seems, all of these creatures (almost humans!) lived more than 1 million years ago.

When the first people were born, there still lived the last species of Paranthropus – robust, smaller and muscular primates. They went extinct around 1 million years ago.

Ancestors of Homo and Paranthropus were Australopithecus were extinct some 2 million years ago. Direct ancestor of humans (Homo) could be Australopithecus garhi who lived in the contemporary Ethiopia and already used stone tools.

Even older are such hominins as Ardipithecus (which seem to be closer to chimpanzees than to us), Orrorin and Sahelanthropus – all in Africa.

Recommended books

The First Human


In this dynamic account, award-winning science writer Ann Gibbons chronicles an extraordinary quest to answer the most primal of questions: When and where was the dawn of humankind?

Lone Survivors


In this groundbreaking and engaging work of science, world-renowned paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer sets out a new theory of humanity’s origin, challenging both the multiregionalists (who hold that modern humans developed from ancient ancestors in different parts of the world) and his own “out of Africa” theory, which maintains that humans emerged rapidly in one small part of Africa and then spread to replace all other humans within and outside the continent.

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