Outstanding finds of early humans and other hominins around the world
Below are listed most important and interesting sites around the world where have been found remnants of early humans and other hominins or traces of their activity.
- Blombos Cave – South Africa, Western Cape. The rich deposits in this cave have provided much knowledge about the humans of Middle – Late Stone Age (100,000 – approximately 1000 BC).
- Buia Fossils – Eritrea, Northern Red Sea. Rich find of early Pleistocene fauna and early hominins. Here was found almost complete, nearly 1 million years old skull of a man, a link between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens. Found also remnants of Palaeoloxodon recki.
- Djourab (Djurab) – Chad, Bourkou and Kanem. Find of 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 chimpanzes and humans.
- Jebel Irhoud – Morocco, Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz. Site where the oldest fossils of modern human Homo sapiens have been found – these humans lived here more than 300,000 years ago.
- Kokwane Prehistoric Footprints – South Africa, Limpopo Province. Unusual solidified footprints of animals and seemingly giant humans. Splashes of solidified rock around the footprints, showing that this is not engraving or result of weathering. Similar sites are nearby.
- Koobi Fora fossil find – Kenya, Eastern Province. Pliocene – Pleistocene sediments near Lake Turkana. Here in hundreds of locations have been found remnants of numerous hominins, who lived here over the last 4.2 million years. In this find were discovered such hominins as Homo rudolfiensis, Australopithecus anamensis and early stone tools. Contains remnants of other mammals.
- Laetoli footprints – Tanzania, Arusha. Unique find of human ancestor footprints in volcanic ash. Footprints were left some 3.6 million years ago by a pair of extinct human ancestors, most possibly Australopithecus afarensis. A proof of comparatively early bipedalism of human ancestors.
- Langebaan Lagoon Footprints – South Africa, Western Cape. Approximately 117,000 years old human footprints in hardened sand-dune deposits, 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.
- Matupi Cave – Congo DR, Orientale, Mount Hoyo. Important archaeological monument in Ituri rainforest. This cave contains sediments which have recorded a sequence of human occupation lasting for the last 40,000 years. Here have been 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.
- Middle Awash Valley – Ethiopia, Afar. Unique find of Middle Pliocene fossils (Bouri Formation), including some of the oldest known hominins in the world – at least seven species. Here were found remnants of Lucy – Australopithecus afarensis, 3,2 million years old hominin and Ardi – 4,4 million years old hominin Ardipithecus ramidus. Here have been found numerous other valuable fossils, including fossils of extinct elephantoids.
- 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 have been discovered some of the oldest stone tools in the world, signs of hunting.
- Olorgesailie – Kenya, Rift Valley Province. Important archaeological site of early humans. Here have been found numerous tools made by man 600 – 900 thousand years ago. Here have been found also numerous bones of now extinct animals, which, possibly, were hunted in this region. Tools have been made by Homo erectus – there have been found also remnants of these people.
- Omo I and Omo II sites – Ethiopia, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Region. Here, in Kibish Formation have been found very important fossils of early hominins including humans (Homo sapiens), who lived here some 195 thousand years ago.
- Rising Star Cave – South Africa, Gauteng. In this cave were found remains of extinct human species which have been named (preliminary) – Homo naledi.
- Sterkfontein – South Africa, Gauteng. The richest site for early hominins in the world. Found remnants of some 500 hominins, mainly up to 2.3 million years old remnants of Australopithecus africanus. Here was discovered also the earliest species of humans – Homo gautengensis. In the site on-going longest continuously running fossil excavations in world, started in 1966. Cave contains lake.
- Swartkrans – South Africa, Gauteng. Extremely rich find of archaeological material, especially – remains of hominins, such as Telanthropus capensis, Homo habilis, Paranthropus 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.
- 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.
- Belilena – Sri Lanka, Sabaragamuwa. In this cave have been 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 has served as a burial site for Neolithic people. Here have been found the earliest human remains in Philippines, 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 were found charcoal drawings which are not dated.
- 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.
- Liang Bua – Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara, Flores. In the cave (and only here) were discovered remnants of an extinct, recent species of human – Homo florensiensis.
- Mata Menge – Indonesia, East Nusa Tenggara, Flores. Find of dwarf human species which lived some 700,000 years ago and was even smaller than Homo floresiensis.
- Red Deer Cave (Maludong) – China, Yunnan. In this cave and also in Longlin Cave (Guangxi) have been discovered fossils of extinct human species or subspecies which lived only some 14,500 – 11,500 years ago. This could be the most recent humans of other species in the world.
- Sangiran Early Man site – Indonesia, Central Java. Area where since 1934 have been discovered numerous fossils of human ancestors (approximately 50% of total known hominoid fossils in the world) and their contemporaries – animals. Discoveries in Ngebung, Solo, Sangiran have provided valuable material for science.
- Shanidar Cave – Iraq, Erbil. In this cave have been 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.
- Zhoukoudian – China, Beijing Municipality. This site is famous due to archaeological findings such as one of the first known specimens of another human species – Homo erectus, called also Peking Man, who lived here approximately 680,000 – 780,000 years ago. Cave inhabited also by modern humans in Upper Paleolithic. Remains of numerous extinct animals such as gigantic hyena Pachycrocuta brevirostris.
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. Cave with entrance in shallow sea water. 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.
- Bayraki Paleolithic site – Moldova, Transnistria. Some of the oldest known traces of humans in Europe – flint tools from the Oldowan epoch, 1.1 – 1.2 million years old (Early Paleolithic).
- Chokurcha – Ukraine, Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Large grotto – settlement of Neanderthals (50 000 years old). There are reports about unique cave paintings of this human species which showed Sun, mammooth, fish. Unfortunately cave has been demolished and its cultural heritage to a large extent is lost. Remains of extinct animals.
- Gorham’s Cave – Gibraltar, one of four caves in Gorham’s Cave complex. Cave has formed in Jurassic limestone and has 18 m thick layer of sediments which contains very important finds including the latest find of Neanderthals who lived here 60 – 24 thousand years ago, when sea was far away from the cave and area was rich with resources. This is the last known settlement of Neanderthals in the world. Time of their habitation includes an incision of eight lines, made at least 39,000 years ago, most likely made by Neanderthals – oldest known abstract drawing in the world. 23 thousand years ago here started to live modern humans, who left some paintings on the walls of cave. Phoenicians and Carthaginians used this cave as their shrine, leaving offerings here.
- Lamalunga Cave (Altamura Man) – Italy, Apulia. Sinkhole in this cave contains amazing find – extremely well preserved skeleton of Neanderthal, between 128,000 – 187,000 years old. Bones are covered and surrounded by the limestone deposits.
- Petralona cave – Greece, Central Macedonia. Some 2 km long cave with important finds of ancient hominins. Especially interesting is a skull of hominin, most likely Homo erectus or Archanthropus europaeus which is crystalized and perched on a stalagmite. This hominin lived here some 300,000 – 600,000 years ago. This find has caused much scientific discussion and controversies with the basic theories of early human history and distribution. Here have been found also numerous fossils of existing and extinct animals.
- Sima del Elefant and Gran Dolina – Spain, Castile-Leon, Atapuerca Mountains. Site where some of the oldest known hominins of Europe have been found. A 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.
- Vindija Cave – Croatia, Varaždin. Cave with impressive, enormous entrance. 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.
- Anzick Clovis burial – United States, Montana. The only known burial of Clovis culture, approximately 13,000 years old.
- Bluefish Caves – Canada, Yukon. Group of three small caves where has been 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, starting 16,000 years ago (before the Clovis culture) and ending in the 18th century.
- Monte Verde – Chile, X Los Lagos. This site contains prehistoric bog deposits where up to 18,500 years old traces of human activities have been discovered. This predates well the Clovis culture – the supposed first people in Americas.
Described finds of early humans and other hominins
In this category have been included most important and unusual places where have been found remains and other traces of activities by early humans (several species of them!) 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 another human species – Homo troglodytes, cave man. No scientific data backed him up at these times… Then, one century later, in 1856 there was recognized a true "alternative" human – Homo neanderthalensis.
Later more and more humans and almost humans were discovered – in 1927 in China was discovered Sinanthropus pekinensis (now: Homo erectus pekinensis) but some years earlier, in 1924 in South Africa was discovered Australopithecus africanus and in 1930ies – the more primitive Paranthropus.
But the most important finds took place in Kenya, in Olduvai Gorge where 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 has yielded the richest diversity of ancient humans anywhere in the world and now it is clear – humans originated in Africa.
Amazing finds continued elsewhere in the world, especially in the 21st century. In 2003 there was discovered new, surprisingly recent human species – 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. Further research shows that interbreeding with both Neanderthals and Denisovans have affected the human genome and there might be other unknown human species involved too.
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 human species, as listed by the time of their extinction:
- 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.
- Homo neanderthalensis was the first "other" human to be discovered – because it lived in Europe, where in the 19th century developed modern natural sciences. Scientists have not agreed yet whether this is subspecies or separate species but recent research shows – it interbred with our species, affecting the genome of people outside Africa. It evolved some 400,000 years ago and last Neanderthals lived in Gibraltar some 40,000 years ago.
- Denisovan (preliminarily – Homo sp. Altai) is another recent discovery from 2010. These people lived in Asia and also interbred with people, affecting their genome, especially of the contemporary Melanesians. Little is known about these humans – their last refuge could be some Indonesian islands (where its remains have not been discovered yet). In Denisova Cave they lived some 100 – 40 thousand years ago but we don’t know their age too well yet.
- Homo floresiensis was an exciting find of scientists on the island of Flores in Indonesia in 2003. These small people ("hobits") lived in between 190,000 and 50,000 years ago, although further research might change this timeframe. It seems that before them on Flores lived even smaller people and also on some other islands of Southeast Asia might have lived small people.
- Homo rhodesiensis lived in Africa some 300,000 – 125,000 years ago. It is highly possible that this is African subspecies of Homo heidelbergensis and also – the direct predecessor to us, Homo sapiens.
- Homo erectus existed before Homo heidelbergensis although scientists are not too sure where one species transformed into another. This human lived in Africa some 1.9 million years ago, spreading to Asia. It went extinct some 143,000 years ago.
- Homo heidelbergensis lived some 600,000 – 200,000 years ago. This human seems to be the ancestor of us, Neanderthals and Denisovans. He lived in Africa, Europe and Asia.
- 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.
- Homo helmei is either early Homo sapiens, late Homo heidelbergensis or intermediate species in between. Remains of this human were found in South Africa and are some 260,000 years old.
- Homo gautengensis was described in 2010 and many scientists are unsure whether this is a separate species or subspecies of Homo erectus. It lived some 1.9 – 0.6 million years ago.
- Homo antecessor lived some 1.2 million – 800,000 years ago. It might be possible that this is the same Homo heidelbergensis or its predecessor. These people lived in Africa and migrated to Europe.
- 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.
- Homo rudolfensis lived some 2 – 1.5 million years ago in Africa. It also could be a subspecies of Homo habilis.
- 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?
There were other primate species which were closer to us than to our closest living relative – chimpanzes. It seems, all of these animals (almost humans!) lived more than 1 million years ago.
Simultaneously with the first people 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 who went 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.
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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.