What Are Some Defining Traits of Homo sapiens?
Image Citation: Clker-Free-Vector-Images (artist). (2012). Skull Cracked Head [digital art]. Retrieved from
Homo sapiens is the Latin name that we gave to our own species. It translates roughly to “wise man”. Before modern humans, there were other species of ancestral humans that also walked upright and used tools and clothing like we do. But are there any traits completely unique to our own species?
Firstly, it’s important to point out that early Homo sapiens were genetically and physically different than modern humans. As we’ve transitioned from living on the African plains in small family groups to modern life with buildings, agriculture, and organized society we have continued evolving to better suit our surroundings.
For example, early Homo sapiens lived exclusively in tropical locations and so had longer limbs in comparison to their body to allow for better cooling. As some humans moved north to Europe, they began to have shorter limbs and stouter bodies in order to conserve heat.
There are also some traits that differentiate both modern and ancient Homo sapiens from our closest ancestors. We have proportionately longer legs than ancestral human species, which made us better equipped for pursuit hunting.
The shape of our skull, and especially our braincase, is also very distinct. As we began to better cook and process our food there was no longer a need for big teeth and strong jaw muscles. This was reflected in a smaller jaw and smaller teeth, especially in terms of our incisors and canine teeth. Over time, this led to a jaw so small that it can’t even fit all of our teeth, which is why so many people need to have their wisdom teeth removed.
Compared to ancestral humans, our face is relatively delicate, small, and flat. We also have a higher forehead and a more protruding jaw than our ancient relatives. Scientists believe that these relatively flat facial features may have served to make our faces more expressive and so better able to communicate emotion. Others have suggested that our faces may be arranged so as to take less damage from punching or other blows to the face.
Whatever the environmental pressures that shaped Homo sapiens, it made us what we are today, and made us successful enough to be the only species of human to survive to modern times.