Southern Africa and the Origin of Homo

Session Date: 
Feb 5, 2016

In the last seven years, two hominin species possessing a mixture of primitive (Australopith-like) and derived (Homo-like) morphology – Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi – have been discovered in South Africa. Opinions differ as to the phylogenetic (evolutionary) position of these species and their relevance to our understanding of the origins of the genus Homo, and especially to the emergence of Homo erectus. Given that southern Africa is a center of mammalian endemism, and that convergent evolution (homoplasy) may be a common occurrence in evolutionary history, caution may well be warranted in accepting claims that these hominins share a phyletic relationship with H. erectus. In the context of broader African mammalian biogeography, however, southern Africa appears to play a major role in the evolutionary history of the extant fauna on the continent. Placing the South African fossils in this context suggests the need for new models in understanding the origins of H. erectus.

File 2016_02_05_08_Churchill-Web.mp492.57 MB