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The earliest, now-extinct human lineages, once thought to be multiple species, may actually have been one species, researchers now controversially suggest.

Modern humans, Homo sapiens, are the only living member of the human lineage, Homo, which is thought to have arisen in Africa about 2 million years ago at the beginning of the ice age, also referred to as the Pleistocene Epoch. Many extinct human species were thought to once roam the Earth, such as Homo habilis, suspected to be among the first stone-tool makers; the relatively larger-brained Homo rudolfensis; the relatively slender Homo ergaster; and Homo erectus, the first to regularly keep tools it made.

To learn more about the roots of the human family tree, scientists investigated a completely intact, approximately 1.8-million-year-old skull excavated from the medieval hilltop town of Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia. Archaeological excavations there about 30 years ago unexpectedly revealed that Dmanisi is one of the oldest-known sites for ancient human species out of Africa and the most complete collection of Homo erectus skulls and jaws found so far. The world’s largest, extinct cheetah species once lived in the area, and scientists cannot rule out whether it fed on these early humans.

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skull 5
An artist’s conception revealing what “Skull 5” may have looked like some 1.8 million years ago when he (the scientists suspect the remains come from a male) lived.
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