Fifty years ago, the hominin species Homo habilis was described by Leakey, Tobias and Napier (1964) on the basis of cranial and postcranial remains from Bed I at Ol duvai Gorge in Tanzania, dated at about 1.8 million years ago (mya). The reaction was highly critical. Sceptics included W.E. Le Gros Clark, K. Oakley, B.G. Campbell, D. Pilbeam, E.L. Simons, F.C. Howell, J. Robinson and L. Brace (Tobias, 1992). Some noted that the new material was similar to South African Plio-Pleistocene fossils attributed to Australopithecus africanus from sites such as Taung (described initially by Dart, 1925) and Sterkfontein (described by Broom and Robinson since 1936, see Broom et al., 1950). Critics claimed that a new species (habilis) in the genus Homo was unwarranted. Robinson (1965) argued that the specimens attributed to H. habilis should instead be considered to be australopithecines. It was not until some 25 years later that Tobias (1991) published two detailed volumes on the hominin fossils attributed to H. habilis from Olduvai Gorge. By that time these specimens were generally considered as a valid species. Tobias (1992) himself triumphantly wrote a retrospective assessment of the controversy, concluding with the words “Today it is widely
accepted as a good taxon and one that represents a critical stage in the evolution of modern man”. However, there is reason to re-assess the status of certain specimens attributed to Homo habilis and A. africanus.