D. J. Scott D. J. Scott
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The Hominid Homepage


Since 1997 C.E.

Q. What is a “Hominid”?

The term “hominid” essentially means “a member of the human family”, from New Latin hominidae (1885-90), equivalent to Latin homin- (stem of homo) “human being, man” + -idae (Dictionary.Com), and comes from a time when the superfamily hominoidea was divided into two families: the hominidae (humans) and the pongidae (great apes). A third family, hylabatidae (small apes, or lesser apes), was often included but sometimes placed in its own superfamily, the hylabatoidea.

While the family pongidae included chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and logically also therefore their as-yet-unknown great ape ancestor, the term “hominid” was used to refer to modern humans as well as any human ancestors who were not also ancestors of the great apes. In other words, any creature “on the human side” of the human/ape family tree.

When it was learned in the 20th century that the African apes (chimpanzees and gorillas) are more closely related to humans than to orangutans, it might have seemed simplest and most natural to simply reassign chimpanzees and gorillas from family pongidae to family hominidae. However, this would have left family pongidae with only one genus, Pongo (orangutans). So instead, families hominidae and pongidae merged. Family hominidae divided into subfamily homininae (humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas) and subfamily ponginae (orangutans). Subfamily homininae divided into tribe hominini (humans and chimpanzees) and tribe gorillini (gorillas). Tribe hominini divided into subtribe hominina (humans) and subtribe panina (chimpanzees and bonobos)

This suggests the following terminology:
“Hominoid” = member of Hominoidea (humans and other apes)
“Hominid” = member of hominidae (humans and other great apes)
“Hominine” = member of homininae (humans and African apes)
“Hominin” = member of hominini (humans and chimpanzees)
[?] = member of hominina (humans and all creatures more closely related to humans than to chimpanzees; i.e., what the word “hominid” used to mean)

Unfortunately, since this entails that the word “hominid” now also refer to chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, it deprives paleoanthropologists of a term functionally equivalent to the former use of the word “hominid” to refer human ancestors who were not also ancestors of the other great apes; to creatures “on the human side” of the human/ape family tree. However, since “hominid” is an English word merely derived from the Latin hominidae, changes in the definition of the Latin word hominidae do not necessarily need to be reflected by equivalent changes in the definition of the English word “hominid”. Some have therefore chosen to use the term “hominid” to refer to subtribe hominina, as this retains its sense of delineating humans and their ancestors since their common ancestor with chimpanzees from the other apes.


Hominid Highlights


[13 MYA] Human-chimpanzee lineages split, earliest possible date
[10 MYA] Origin of bipedality
[9 MYA] Last interbreeding event between the human and chimpanzee lineages, earliest possible date
[8 MYA] Human-chimpanzee lineages split for the first time, latest possible date in an reconvergence/interbreeding model
[4 MYA] Last interbreeding event between the human and chimpanzee lineages, latest possible date
[2.5 MYA] Origin of stone tool production
[2 MYA] Increase in brain size, human and chimpanzee lineage cranial capacities no longer overlap
[1 MYA] Harnessing fire
[0.05 MYA] Behavioral modernity
[0.01 MYA] Agriculture / domestication of grasses (wheat, barley)
[0.008 MYA] Invention of the wheel
[0.005 MYA] Origin of civilization
[0.000015] Global urbanization / beginnings of eusociality

Extant Hominids

Human
Genus Homo
Chimp
Genus Pan
Silverback
Genus Gorilla
Orangutan
Genus Pongo

Important Hominid Fossils

TM 266-01-060-1
TM 266-01-060-1, “Tomai” Sahelanthropus tchadensis
Ardi
Aramis Vertebrate Paleontology 6/500 (ARA-VP-6/500), or “Ardi”
KNM-ER 20419
Kenya National Museum, East Rudolf 20419 (KNM-ER 20419)
Lucy
Afar Locality 288-1 (AL 288-1), or “Lucy”
KNM-WT 4000
Kenya National Museum, West Turkana 40000 (KNM-WT 40000)
Taung 1
Taung 1 — “The Taung Child”
Mrs. Ples
Sterkfontein 5 (Sts 5), or “Mrs. Ples”
Stw 431
Sterkfontein 431 (Stw 431)
BOU-VP-11/1 & BOU-VP-12/1
Bouri Vertebrate Palaeontology 11/1 and 12/1 (BOU-VP-11/1 & BOU-VP-12/1)
MH1
Malapa Hominid 1 (MH1)
OH 62
Olduvai Hominid 62 (OH 62), or “Dik-dik hominid”
KNM-ER 3735
Kenya National Museum, East Rudolf 3735 (KNM-ER 3735)
KNM-ER 1470
Kenya National Museum, East (Lake) Rudolf 1470 (KNM-ER 1470)
KNM-ER 1813
Kenya National Museum, East (Lake) Rudolf 1813 (KNM-ER 1813)
Turkana Boy
Kenya National Museum, West (Lake) Turkana 15000 (KNM-WT 15000), also known as “Nariokotome Boy” or “Turkana Boy”
Java Man
Trinil 2, or “Java Man”

Immediate Phylogeny

Parent Group
Hominoidea

Current Group
Hominidae

Daughter Groups
Homininae
Ponginae

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Taxonomy

Domain
Eucarya

Kingdom
Metazoa

Phylum
Chordata

Class
Mammalia

Order
Primata

Subrder
Haplorhini

Infraorder
Simiiformes

Parvorder
Catarrhini

Superfamily
Hominoidea

⚑ = You Are Here.

Recommended Links
Fossil Hominids:The Evidence for Human Evolution

Journal Links
Nature: International Journal of Science
PMC — PubMed Central
PNAS — Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Science
ScienceDirect

Catalogue Links
Bone Clones
Skulls Unlimited

Magazine Links
National Geographic
NewScientist
Popular Science
Scientific American

Evolution Links
The Phylogeny Explorer Project
Tree of Life Web Project