The first humans were smaller, but “scrappy” according to a new comprehensive data set. These humans emerged from South Africa and were from a smaller-bodied species called Homo habilis, also known as “The Handy Man.” This is a complete shake-up of the human family tree. It’s been theorized for many years that the first humans to leave Africa were related to Homo erectus, a tall, muscular human. It wasn’t so, say scientists at Simon Fraser University.


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Mark Collard, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s Human Evolutionary Studies Program and Department of Archaeology, and senior author of the study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, said “Traditionally, Handy Man was viewed as a little human, with a relatively big brain, bipedalism, and tool-making forming part of the picture.”

Related: Oldest human fossil fills in a 2.8-million-year-old gap in evolution

However, new evidence suggests that Handy Man was more ape-like than modern man—able to climb and walk on two feet. For the study, Collard and his team compared “alternative human evolutionary trees, seeing how well they fit the newly constructed dataset. The output from each, he explained, was a statistic representing one of the following: it was consistent with the dataset, it was not consistent and therefore could be rejected, or it fell somewhere in the middle.”

This means that Handy Man gave rise to Homo erectus in Asia who then spread to Africa and not the other way around as previously contended. Collard said that the new evidence also indicates that Neanderthals are a species exclusive to Eurasia as there is no evidence that they were from in Africa. However, there is no indication of what type of early human might have been the predecessors to the Neanderthals. They, and other Middle Pleistocene-era humans, are called the ‘middle of the middle’ for that reason.

Terry Harrison, director of the Center for the Study of Human Origins and New York University, where Harrison is also a professor, told Discovery News that the new study “will surely spark passionate debate on all sides of the paleoanthropological community.”

Via Discovery News

Images via Mark Gray and Vector Open Stock