Homo habilis ("handy man", "skillful person") is a species of the genus Homo, which lived from approximately 2 million to 1.5 million years ago. The definition of this species goes back to Louis Leakey who found fossils in Tanzania, East Africa, in 1964. Homo habilis is arguably the first species of the Homo genus to appear. In its appearance and morphology, H. habilis was the least similar to modern humans of all species to be placed in the genus Homo (except possibly Homo rudolfensis). Homo habilis was very short and had disproportionately long arms compared to modern man. It is thought to have descended from a species of Australopithecine hominid. It may have had a more immediate ancestor in the form of the somewhat more massive and ape-like, Homo rudolfensis. Homo habilis had a brain slightly less than half of the size of modern man. These early human ancestors were small, on average standing no more than 1.3 m tall.
Homo habilis shared the earth with many other Homo-like bipedal primates, such as Paranthropus boisei, which were also highly successful, some prospering for many millennia. However, H. habilis, with its early tool innovation and less specialized diet, proved to be a precursor of an entire line of new species, whereas Paranthropus boisei and its relatives disappeared from the later fossil record.
Homo habilis is thought to have mastered the Oldowan era (Early Paleolithic) tool case which utilized stone flakes. Though these stone flakes were primitive by human standards, they were more advanced than any tools that had ever previously existed, and they gave H. habilis the edge it needed to prosper in hostile environments previously too formidable for primates. However, H. habilis was not the master hunter that its descendants proved to be, as there is ample fossil evidence that H. habilis was a major staple in the diet of large predatory animals such as Dinofelis barlowi, a large predatory cat similar to a leopard. H. habilis used tools primarily for scavenging, such as cleaving meat off of carrion, rather than defence or hunting.
Homo habilis is thought to be the ancestor of the lankier and more sophisticated, Homo ergaster, which in turn gave rise to the more human appearing species, Homo erectus. There is debate over whether H. habilis is a direct human ancestor, and over how many known fossils are properly attributed to the species.
There is little evidence that Homo habilis controlled fire, buried its dead, hunted cooperatively, used language (any more advanced than gestures) or studied its environment in the manner of its later descendants.
There is large amount of controversy about the classification of H. habilis into theHomo genus. Like Homo rudolfensis, H. habilis lacked many of the things that were unique only to later hominins such as slim hips for walking long distances, a sophisticated sweating system, narrow birth canal, legs longer than arms, noticeable whites in the eyes, smaller hairs resulting in naked appearance and exposed skins, etc. Many scientists think H. habilis and its close reletive H. rudolfensis to be more ape like despite their larger brains and bipedal locomotion than that of earlier species and is being re-thought on their classification into the Homo genus.