Homo habilis means literally, the "handy man". This species was a human ancestor who lived in Africa around 1.9 to 1.6 million years ago and was distinguished from their ancestors, as the name suggests, by use of stone tools.

Along with this, they may also have had the first stirrings of human language, culture and awareness. There is not (and could not be) any hard evidence that language began with Homo habilis, but many experts theorise (see homo symbolicus) that language, self-awareness, culture and technology co-evolved and therefore would have had their first stirrings at the same time.

The first fossils of Homo habilis were found at Olduvai Gorge by Louis and Mary Leakey. It is thought that Homo habilis dwelt throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

Homo habilis is thought to have given way to Homo erectus around 1.8 to 1.6 million years ago, who in turn gave way to us.

It has been speculated that homo habilis may have existed as far back as 2.4 million years ago. More significantly, it was probably the first human ancestor to use tools. Rudimentary stone tools such as choppers (made from core tools) and flakes (sharper pieces extracted from the core) have been found in association with homo habilis bones and dated to around their time.

The average cranial capacity of this species was approximately 680 cm3, which was a large improvement on the Australopithecus capacity (around 500 cm), but small in comparison to Homo erectus and later Homo sapiens. The skull had lost the large sagittal crest running along the midline of the skull, as well as the flaring zygomatic arches and large temporalis.

Homo habilis was a terrestrial biped that was part of an expansion in brain capacity and tool-crafting abilities. However, there is no real evidence to suggest that Homo habilis had any capacity for language.

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