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Genera of the human lineage

  • Author(s): Cela-Conde, C J
  • Ayala, Francisco J
  • et al.
Abstract

Human fossils dated between 3.5 and nearly 7 million years old discovered during the last 8 years have been assigned to as many as four new genera of the family Hominidae: Ardipithecus, Orrorin, Kenyanthropus, and Sahelanthropus. These specimens are described as having morphological traits that justify placing them in the family Hominidae while creating a new genus for the classification of each. The discovery of these fossils pushed backward by >2 million years the date of the oldest hominids known. Only two or three hominid genera, Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and Homo, had been previously accepted, with Paranthropus considered a subgenus of Australopithecus by some authors. Two questions arise from the classification of the newly discovered fossils: (i) Should each one of these specimens be placed in the family Hominidae? (ii) Are these specimens sufficiently distinct to justify the creation of four new genera? The answers depend, in turn, on the concepts of what is a hominid and how the genus category is defined. These specimens seem to possess a sufficient number of morphological traits to be placed in the Hominidae. However, the nature of the morphological evidence and the adaptation-rooted concept of what a genus is do not justify the establishment of four new genera. We propose a classification that includes four well defined genera: Praeanthropus, Ardipithecus, Australopithecus, and Homo, plus one tentative incertae sedis genus: Sahelanthropus.

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