There are a few pieces of evidence that points to the continent of Africa being the origins of humans and human ancestors. In the 1920s, Raymond Dart, a paleontologist from South Africa, discovered the remains of a creature that walked upright on two legs and had an enlarged (though by today’s standards, tiny) brain, and thus was considered to be a human ancestor along the hominid line, called by Dart an Australopithecus, or southern ape. More of these Australopithecus and creatures like them were found throughout Kenya and Tanzania, and in the 1970s American Donald Johanson found a skeleton in Ethiopia whose origins were from at least three million years ago. This skeleton, called “Lucy” by Johanson and his team, puts the earliest human’s and the “cradle of humanity” in Africa.
There were other discoveries throughout Africa that helped to suggest that this continent was, indeed, the cradle of humanity. There were discoveries of Homo habilis and the next stage, Homo erectus. Homo erectus is the human ancestor thought to spread throughout Africa and into Europe and other areas of what is considered the Old World. Homo habilis is the thought of as the first species of the Homo genus, and is compared to modern humans. From Homo erectus came Homo sapiens over 100,000 years ago, and the final stage, Homo sapiens sapiens, modern humans, are placed at around 40,000 years ago and are thought to have spread from Africa.
Homo habilis is thought of as the earliest human ancestor. It was a bipedal, a creature that walked on two feet, but was also able to overcome its mass and climb trees. The Homo habilis is placed nearly two million years ago, where human behavior was more apelike and did not involve the tools see by the H. habilis. Many of the earliest of these tools were found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania that was formed 100,000 years ago. The walls of this gorge expose lake beds, some of which were from two million years ago. The H. habilis was seen from the ancient lake shores shown by this gorge. The earliest human ancestors also left stone and animal bone tools on the lake shores, which have since been discovered by paleontologists and paleoanthropologists.
The earliest human ancestors were not hunters. They were scavengers who followed up after a predator killed its prey, and they would use the stone tools to cut up the meat near this lake that they were found. The areas by lakes did not serve as camps but as places to eat and spend time, because it is believed that our earliest human ancestors spent their nights up trees where they were safe from predators that roamed on the ground. Homo habilis did, however, have a large brain which allowed for more intellectual thought, such as social interaction. This ancestor, placed two million years ago in the tropical areas south of the Sahara Desert, eventually became extinct in favor of the Homo erectus, a form of hominid that lived beside the H. habilis but did not have much that distinguished them from one another despite being an evolved form of hominid.
“Humans before Humanity” by Robert Foley
“Africa: A Biography of the Continent” by John Reader