How many human species have existed on Earth?

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At least 21 human species are recognized by researchers, including our — homo sapiens — according to a survey by the National Museum of Natural History, maintained by the Smithsonian Institute, in the United States. However, counting is not a consensus in the scientific community and, most likely, it will not be.

Interestingly, the notion that other primitive human species lived on Earth may not make sense to many people, as today the homo sapiens is the only one to inhabit the planet. Only, in fact, the current reality is our species can be considered an exception in evolutionary history.

“We have a human species now and historically this is very strange,” explains Nick Longrich, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Bath, UK, for the LiveScience website. “Not long ago, we weren’t so special, but now we’re the only ones left,” he adds about the novelty of this reality.

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List of human species from the National Museum of Natural History

It is worth explaining that the National Museum of Natural History considers primitive human species as “everything that emerged after our separation from ancient chimpanzees, about 6 million to 7 million years ago”, comments John Stewart, paleoecologist at the University of Bournemouth, in United Kingdom. That’s because both chimpanzees and humans evolved from a common ancestor.

Check out the complete list of the museum’s 21 human species:

  • Homo sapiens;
  • Ardipithecus kadabba;
  • Ardipithecus ramidus;
  • Australopithecus afarensis;
  • Australopithecus africanus;
  • Australopithecus anamensis;
  • Australopithecus garhi;
  • Australopithecus sediba;
  • Homo erectus;
  • Homo floresiensis;
  • Homo habilis;
  • Homo heidelbergensis;
  • Homo naledi;
  • Homo neanderthalensis;
  • Homo rudolfensis;
  • Kenyanthropus platyops;
  • Orrorin tugenensis;
  • Paranthropus aethiopicus;
  • Paranthropus boisei;
  • Paranthropus robustus;
  • Sahelanthropus tchadensis.

There is a lack of consensus on the number of primitive species

For Stewart, although the survey considers the main consensus of the academy, the list is not complete. For example, the scientist mentions the absence of Denisovans.

In addition, other scholars argue that the species known as homo erectus is actually made up of a set of different species, such as homo georgicus and homo erecteda.

“It’s all about the definition of a species and the degree to which you accept variation within a species,” Stewart details. Thus, estimating the exact number “can become a bit irritating and pedantic a discussion, because everyone wants an answer. But the truth is, it really depends,” he points out.

In addition to the lack of consensus, the number of human species may never be exact. That’s because researchers continue to unearth new fossils and, among the archaeological finds, new species can be identified.

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