Fact Files: Homo habilis: (HOM-oh HA-bill-iss)

Meaning: 'Handy man'.

Lived: 2.2 - 1.6 million years ago.

Range: Eastern and southern Africa.

Diet: Omnivorous diet.

Size: M: 131cm / 37kg F: 100cm / 32 kg.

Brain Size: 47% the size of a modern brain.

Homo habilis spies a prime animal carcass in the distance
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Description | Evidence

Homo habilis had a short body and long ape-like arms like the australopithecines. But they were distinguished from earlier hominids by their big brain (c. 630 cubic centimetres) and small teeth.

The species evolved in Africa at a time when traditional forest foods like fruit were becoming scarce forcing animals to seek out new nutritional sources.

Homo habilis ate meat by scavenging from animal carcasses. But snatching meat from under the noses of fearsome predators like lions was a risky business.

However, Homo habilis had a secret weapon: stone tools. Crude stone implements were used to smash open animal bones and extract the nutritious bone marrow.

Homo habilis lived in East Africa at the same time as Paranthropus boisei. But they they occupied different ecological niches and so were not direct competitors. While habilis was an omnivore, boisei survived on a hard-to-chew vegetarian diet.

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