Humanity's origins in Africa are so taken for granted these days that it often comes as a surprise to discover that the scientific world—except for Charles Darwin—was at first rather skeptical of the idea. Indeed, most of the fossil evidence gathered in the first half of the 20th century was consistent with the idea that the genus Homo, of which our species Homo sapiens is just the most recent member, arose in Asia.

Then in 1964, Mary and Louis Leakey and their colleagues published a remarkable series of findings supporting the idea that Homo habilis, an early member of the Homo group, first appeared in east Africa.

Bernard Wood describes, in a feature article in Scientific American as well as in the following interview with Ewen Callaway of Nature, how Homo habilis revolutionized paleontologists' understanding of human evolution. 

Related stories from our archive:

Who Was the First Human Ancestor? [Video] January 2013.

Spectacular South African Skeletons Reveal New Species from Murky Period of Human Evolution by Kate Wong. April 2010

Out of Africa Again . . . and Again? by Ian Tattersall. May 2003.

An Ancestor to Call Our Own by Kate Wong. May 2003.

First Humans to Leave Africa Weren't Necessarily a Brainy Bunch by Kate Wong. July 2002.