Cradle of mankind

Sub-saharan Africa is thought to be the first home of modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens), who spread from the continent around 100,000 years ago. This is why Africa is often called 'the cradle of mankind'.

Before this time, the ancestors of man were living in the eastern region of Africa millions of years ago. Some of the best fossil evidence for how man's ancestors (known as hominids) evolved has been found in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

3.5 million year-old

The skeletal remains of an Australopithecene species known as Australophithecus afarensis were found in Ethiopia; this small hominid, who walked on two legs and had a brain approximately one-third the size of ours, was called 'Lucy'.


Hominid fossils as old as 4.5 million years have been found in Ethiopia, from a primate species called Ardipithecus ramidus.

There is more fossil evidence for later species of hominids. The most widespread branch of early hominids are known as the Australopithecenes or 'southern apes', who lived from around 4 million – 1 million years ago.

Footprints discovered in Tanzania (by the famous archaeologist and anthropologist Mary Leakey) show that Australopithecenes were walking on two legs from as early as 3.5 million years ago.

From around the same time, other branches of hominid species were developing, including our own ancestral line – the Homo species ('homo means 'man'). These include species such as Homo habilis ('able' or 'handy man') who lived around 2 million years ago and Homo erectus ('upright man') from around 1 million years ago.