In The Descent of Man, published in 1871, Charles Darwin hypothesized that our ancestors came from Africa. He pointed out that among all animals, the African apes — gorillas and chimpanzees — were the most similar to humans. But he had little fossil evidence. The few known human fossils had been found in Europe, and those that trickled in over the next 50 years came from Europe and from Asia.
Had Darwin picked the wrong continent?
Finally, in 1924, a fortuitous find supported Darwin’s speculation. Among the debris at a limestone quarry in South Africa, miners recovered the fossilized skull of a toddler. Based on the child’s blend of humanlike and apelike features, an anatomist determined that the fossil was what was then popularly known as a “missing link.” It was the most apelike fossil yet found of a hominid — that is, a member of the family Hominidae, which includes modern humans and all our close, extinct relatives.