Fossil Hominid Skulls

In this post, I will share with you two things. The first is what I consider a rather comprehensive series of skulls showing human evolution with a chimpanzee skull on the left end, and a modern human skull on the right. The intervening skulls belong to various fossil hominids, all arrayed in chronological order:

Fossil Hominid Skulls

This image should be showing you how human evolution played out on the form of the primate skull. We retained forward facing eyes. The most glaring change I note is that from an ancestral ape you can see how our brains have been getting bigger and bigger and our teeth smaller and smaller.

I have some slight problems with this image, though. The biggest problem, and a common misconception I see in regards to understanding human evolution, is the whole we descended from chimpanzees train of thought. This image compounds it. The lineage of primates that have become the chimpanzees have been evolving independently of the human lineage. And because the non-human primate fossil record is rather spotty — it is hard to see these types of trends and transitions that we see in the above image happen along in chimpanzees.

Working on that note, this composition implies that our ancestral form was a chimp and once the chimp and human lines diverged then humans went through many natural selection events while chimps just remained stagnant as chimps. That’s wrong. Chimps and humans share a common ape ancestor.

Aside from using this image to clarify trends and misunderstandings in human evolution, the second thing I wanted to do with this post was warm you up to some good news in regards to my involvement on a physical anthropology project. That’s all I can say for now. I’ll be trickling posts like these to wet your appetite.

15 thoughts on “Fossil Hominid Skulls

  1. Couple of things: first, let’s hope the appetites are whetted; just getting them damp is probably not what we want.

    Second, while the ‘common ancestor’ argument is certainly correct, it also appears to be the case that modern chimps/bonobos are the most generalized of all the apes and probably the least changed from whatever the common ancestor was. So IF WE MAKE THAT POINT CLEARLY, and that it is usually generalized rather than specialized forms that give rise to new lineages, then the chimp can be useful for comparisons. But the caveats are important; we do not wish to imply that humans are derived chimps!

  2. Is there a review paper, photo atlas, etc. like the composite illustration above, that shows a comprehensive sample of skulls, along with their respective dates and locations? Is there one for all primates, all hominids, sloely human etc.?

    1. there is something remotely like that on wikipedia. i think it is called ‘list of hominid fossils’ it’s expanding (slowly) and contains images, finding places and date estimates. with many links, so be it somewhat limited it’s still nice.

  3. Funny that you ask, Alex because in about two weeks I’ll be releasing a comprehensive database of human evolution fossils, with dates, locations, and literature information. Keep visiting for the announcement.


  4. Do you have a list of the different species/subspecies for the skullcompilation?

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