When Did Homo Habilis Live and for How Long?

De Agostini / G. Cigolini/De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

Homo habilis lived from about about 2 to 1.5 million years ago. This species, one of the earliest known of the Homo genus, lived in Eastern and Southern Africa.

The first Homo habilis fossils were discovered in 1959 and 1960 in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. For a long time the classification of these fossils as a new species was controversial. Many thought they should either put under the umbrella of australopithecines (a more primitive human ancestor). As more evidence accumulated, however, Homo habilis was accepted as a valid species, perhaps an intermediate step between australopithecines and the later Homo erectus.

Homo habilis literally means “handy man,” a reference to the primitive stone tools found in proximity to some Homo habilis fossils. This apparent increase in tool use may correspond to an increase in cranial capacity, one of the most important anatomical differences between Homo habilis and australopithecus. Despite the difficulty of delineating between the two (some scientists continue to classify smaller specimens that may be Homo habilis as australopithecus), various dating methods have established that Homo habilis lived from about 2 to 1.5 million years ago.