Homo sapiens

Homo sapiens is the most widely dispersed and numerous medium-large size mammal, and the only extant member of the genus Homo.

The type specimen of Homo sapiens is Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), based on the descriptions in the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae (Linnaeus, 1758).

No single person was recognised as the type specimen until 1959, when William Stearn wrote that "Linnaeus himself, must stand as the type of his Homo sapiens". This was enough to designate Linnaeus as a lectotype - the single name-bearing type specimen for the species Homo sapiens.

Genus characteristics include a high degree of encephalisation and a skeleton adapted to habitual bipedalism. Species traits include:

  • a globular cranial vault
  • supraorbital ridges small or absent
  • a chin on the lower jaw

Species detail

  • Comparison of Hominid skeletons
    Evolution

    Humans probably originated in Africa, but genetic studies recently showed the story is more complex than we thought. Find out more.

  • human diversity
    Distribution

    Homo sapiens is the most abundant medium-sized mammal on earth. Find out how it has spread across the globe.

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    Biology

    Humans are social animals and vary in size and appearance. Find out more about their habits and breeding patterns.

  • 100,000-year-old shell bead from Skhul Cave in Israel
    Behaviour

    This species has an ancestral hunter-gatherer lifestyle, which has now developed to include agriculture and industrialisation. Find out more about the unusual behaviour of this species.

  • An arial view of London showing a range of human activities.
    Conservation

    Human beings have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to alter and shape their environment in pursuit of food, shelter and livelihoods. Find out what impact this is having.

Images

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The beginnings of modern human cultural complexity can be traced back at least 100,000 years in Africa and the Middle East. African sites have extensive evidence of the use of red iron oxide pigments, for colouring shell beads and (probably also) the human body, while in the Middle East there are cave sites in Israel with shell beads (one is pictured from the site of Skhul), pigments, and human burials with associated grave goods such as deer antlers.

Human diversity

Human diversity

An arial view of London showing a range of human activities.

An arial view of London showing a range of human activities.

Carolus Linnaeus

Carolus Linnaeus

© Wikimedia
Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci

Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci

Hominid reconstructions in chronological order

Hominid reconstructions in chronological order

About the authors

Prof Chris Stringer and Dr Louise Humphrey
Human Origins Research Group, Department of Palaeontology.

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