Paleoanthropologists agree that modern humans evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago, yet the fossil evidence for the earliest examples of Homo sapiens is scarce. One problem is the difficulty in recognizing true modern humans in the fossil record: At this time, many of the fossils thought to be early members of our species possess a mix of modern and primitive traits. For some paleoanthropologists, it means our species once had a greater range of physical variation than we do today. For others, it means more than one species of Homo may have lived in Africa at this time, sharing some traits in common.
Despite the challenges of identifying early humans, there are several candidates for the earliest known members of our species. Here’s a look at some of the top contenders.