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Reconstructions

Tools tell a more complicated tale of the origin of the human genus

By
4:54pm, September 5, 2011

The first animals that could arguably be called “human” made the evolutionary scene a little less than 2 million years ago.

These aren’t folks you’d mistake for modern-day Homo sapiens, or even the GEICO caveman. But they were clearly distinct from their more apelike predecessors. They had bigger brains, for one thing, and walked fully upright — presumably an adaptation to life out in the open rather than up in the trees. They hunted at least some of their food, tamed fire and may have spoken some form of language.

Paleoanthropologists have long been convinced that this revolutionary species, Homo erectus, was born on the African savanna almost 2 million years ago and spread over the next million years or so into Europe and Asia. Presumably its anatomical innovations and cultural sophistication made it the first species in the human evolutionary lineage that could survive outside Africa.

But some

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