Guide, Description and Bibliography

This is the image of the Taung Baby, discovered in 1924 by Raymond Dart
Taung Baby, discovered in 1924 by Raymond Dart, and he represents the very first Australopithecus identified. Shad Bolling (c) 2006

Australopithecus is one of several species of hominins who may or may not be Homo sapiens direct ancestor. Fossils of Australopithecus have been found in Africa dating to the period between 4.2 and 1.4 million years ago. They discovered how to use tools approximately 2 million years ago, marking the beginning of the Lower Paleolithic period.

Australopithecus used bipedal locomotion (walked upright on two legs), had a long forearm and lumbar column relative to African or Asian apes, stood between 1.2 and 1.5 meters, and had a body mass of 30-35 kilograms and a brain size between 350 and 600 cubic centimeters.

Australopithecus Species

In general, scientists recognize seven species of the genus Australopithecus (although certainly there is debate). A. sebida, reported in 2011, may not be Australopithecus, and reports suggest that the species definition may need revising.

  • Australopithecus afarensis, 3.6-2.9 million years ago (mya). Laetoli (Tanzania), Koobi Fora and West Turkana (Kenya), Omo and Selam aka Dikika (Ethiopia), Middle Awash and Hadar regions in Ethiopia, Sterkfontein, South Africa
  • A. aethiopicus, 2.7-2.3 mya. West Turkana in Kenya, Omo Shungura in Ethiopia.
  • A. africanus, 3-2 mya. Makapansgat, Sterkfontein, Taung in South Africa.
  • A. anamensis, 4.17-3.9 mya. Kanapoi and Allia Bay in Kenya, Fejej and Galili in Ethiopia.
  • A. bahrelghazali, 3.5-3.0 mya. Koro-Toro in Chad.
  • A. boisei (sometimes designated Paranthropus boisei), 2.3-1.4 million years ago. Chiwondo in Malawi, Olduvai Gorge and Peninj in Tanzania, Koobi Fora and West Turkana in Kenya, Omo Shungura and Konso-Gardula in Ethiopia.
  • A. garhi 2.5 mya. Bouri and Omo Shungura in Ethiopia, Baringo-Chemeron in Kenya.
  • A. robustus, 1.7 mya. Kromdraai, Swartkrans, Drimolen and Gondolin, South Africa.
  • A. sebida, 1.977 mya. Malapa cave, South Africa.


This definition is part of the Guide to the Lower Paleolithic.

Alemseged, Zeresenay, et al.

2006 A juvenile early hominin skeleton from Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature 443:296-301.

Alemseged, Zeresenay, et al. 2006 A new hominin from the Basal Member of the Hadar Formation, Dikika, Ethiopia, and its geological context. Journal of Human Evolution 49:499-514. Free download.

Asfaw, Berhane, et al. 1999 Australopithecus garhi: A New Species of Early Hominid from Ethiopia. Science 284(5414):629-635. Free download.

Brown, P., et al. 2007 A new small-bodied hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia. Nature 431:1055-1061.

de Heinzelin, Jean, et al. 1999 Environment and Behavior of 2.5-Million-Year-Old Bouri Hominids. Science 284(5414):625-629.

Johanson, Donald C. 2004 Lucy, Thirty Years Later: An expanded view of Australopithecus afarensis. Journal of Anthropological Research 60(4):465-486.

Kimbel, William H., et al. 2006 Was Australopithecus anamensis ancestral to A. afarensis? A case of anagenesis in the hominin fossil record. Journal of Human Evolution 51134-152.

McKee, Jeffrey K. 1993 Faunal dating of the Taung hominid fossil deposit. Journal of Human Evolution 25:363-376.

McNulty, Kieran P., Stephen R. Frost, and David S. Strait 2006 Examining affinities of the Taung child by developmental simulation.

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Prat, Sandrine, et al. 2005 First occurrence of early Homo in the Nachukui Formation (West Turkana, Kenya) at 2.3-2.4 Myr. Journal of Human Evolution 49(2):230-240.

Raichlen, David A., Herman Pontzer, and Michael D. Sockol in press The Laetoli footprints and early hominin locomotor kinematics. Journal of Human Evolution in press.

Schoeninger, Margaret J., Holly Reeser, and Kris Hallin 2003 Paleoenvironment of Australopithecus anamensis at Allia Bay, East Turkana, Kenya: evidence from mammalian herbivore enamel stable isotopes. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 22(3):200-207.

Schubert, Blaine W., Peter S. Ungar, Matt Sponheimer, and Kaye E. Reed 2006 Microwear evidence for Plio-Pleistocene bovid diets from Makapansgat Limeworks Cave, South Africa. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 241:301-319.

Semaw, Sileshi 2000 The World's Oldest Stone Artefacts from Gona, Ethiopia: Their Implications for Understanding Stone Technology and Patterns of Human Evolution Between 2·6-1·5 Million Years Ago. Journal of Archaeological Science 27:1197-1214.

Tobias, Phillip V. 1998 Ape-like Australopithecus after seventy years: Was it a hominid? Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4(2):284-307.

Tuttle, R. H., D. M. Webb, and M. Baksh 1991 Laetoli toes and Australopithicus afarensis. Human Evolution 6(3):193-200.

Villmoare BA, and Kimbel WH. 2011. CT-based study of internal structure of the anterior pillar in extinct hominins and its implications for the phylogeny of robust Australopithecus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Early Edition.

Ward, Carol, Maeve Leakey, and Alan Walker 1999 The new hominid species Australopithecus anamensis. Evolutionary Anthropology 7(6):197-205. Free download.

White, Tim D. 2002 Earliest hominids. In The Primate Fossil Record. Walter C. Hartwig, ed. Pp. 407-418. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wynn, Jonathan G., et al. 2006 Geological and palaeontological context of a Pliocene juvenile hominin at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature 443:332-336.