homo sapiens

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homo sapiens The species to which all living humans belong. The Latin meaning, ‘wise man’ reflects the greater endowment of the brain power compared to his predecessors. The species is defined in terms of anatomy, and the first member of the species is recognized from about 150 000 years ago. Compared to other members of the family Hominidae (all members of the human lineage since the divergence from the common ancestors with chimpanzees about 5 million years ago) and the genus Homo (larger brained hominids that appeared about 2 million years ago), the species is characterized by a higher and more vertical forehead, a round and gracile cranium, small face and teeth, a prominent chin, and a more slender and elongated post-cranial skeleton. Early forms of Homo sapiens co-existed in some parts of the world with other hominid species such as Homo neanderthalensis until about 26 000 years ago. Although members of Homo sapiens may vary around the world, the species cannot be clearly divided into sub-species or races, and all living humans can inter-breed with each other and produce fertile offspring — hence their designation as a single species.

Robert Foley


See also evolution, human; Neanderthals; skeleton; skull.
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Homo sapiens (‘wise man’) Our own species, which is thought to have evolved c.500,000 years ago from Homo erectus. The earliest fossils of H. sapiens have been discovered in Africa. Modern man, H. sapiens sapiens, developed sophisticated tools (c.40,000 years ago) that enabled it to colonize all Earth's continents, except Antarctica, by c.10,000 years ago.

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Ho·mo sa·pi·ens / ˈhōmō ˈsāpēənz/ the primate species to which modern humans belong; humans regarded as a species. See also Homo. ∎  a member of this species.