Fossil lab at the LA County Museum of Natural History
March 10-14, 2008
Today you will examine fossil materials of the earliest ancestors of our human family tree. [Early
primate evolution will be covered in lecture.]
As you go through the stations, keep in mind that,
though there are derived features that separate different fossil groups from themselves and from
modern humans, there are many similarities that unite the hominids as a family.
Many new fossils have been found in the past few years that have greatly increased the
members of our family, the Hominidae.
As a result, the classification of our family has undergone
many changes. More information on how these groups are related to one another will be presented
In this lab, we will explore the major morphological differences among the hominid
The features that you will examine in each fossil are repeated at the different stations, so you
will not be learning a new set of features for each fill-in table.
Please be very careful of the fossil casts.
The timeline on the next page is provided as a reference. Use it to orient yourself to the major
hominid groups. The fossils that you will examine in this lab are circled.
Note on classification
Recall from earlier discussions that the classification of humans and our closest living relative, the
apes, has undergone some recent reevaluation.
In the traditional classification, the great apes
(orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees) were placed into the family Pongidae, and humans and our
ancestors were placed into Hominidae.
Based on overall genetic relatedness, however,
chimpanzees and humans are more closely related to each other than either is to the gorilla.
Therefore, an updated classification has been proposed, where the orangutans are left in Pongidae
and gorillas and chimpanzees are now placed into Hominidae with humans.
Within the hominids,
gorillas are in a separate subfamily (Gorillinae), and chimpanzees and humans are together in the
To differentiate humans from chimpanzees, humans are grouped within the
tribe Hominini. Depending on the classification scheme used, humans and our fossil ancestors can
be called “hominids” or “hominins.”
In this class, we will continue to use the traditional
classification and refer to humans as “hominids,” but you should be aware of alternative
You can check out p. 322 of your textbook for further information on these
Key Terms to Address
receding mandibular symphysis
hominid = humans and their extinct bipedal ancestors
hominin = genus
(fossil & modern)