In Search of the First Hominids

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Science  15 Feb 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5558, pp. 1214-1219
DOI: 10.1126/science.295.5558.1214

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Thanks to an astonishing series of fossil discoveries, researchers are at last glimpsing our earliest ape ancestors, back beyond 4 million years ago. The finds are shifting attention from the savanna to the woods--and changing ideas about what it means to be a hominid. Indeed, they may end up displacing Lucy, who for 2 decades has stood alone as the first known human ancestor. The faces and many features of these earliest hominids remain shadowy, but their outlines can be discerned, revealing apes the size of chimpanzees that walked upright through African forests. The second story in this special Focus section explores more recent prehistory, namely the birth of our own species, Homo sapiens.