The species to which you and I belong to emerged in Africa around 300,000 years ago. It’s conceivable, of course, that archaeologists may find older specimens in the future, but this, for now, is the earliest date, from fossil records, for the start of H. sapiens.
Modern humans are only a sub-group within the species Homo sapiens, and we should recognise the diversity of forms within early Homo sapiens, which became extinct for various reasons.
But would the earliest H. Sapiens, which suffered extinction, even stand out if we were to meet them in the street., probably not.
What then came before H. Sapiens?
We don't know for certain exactly when H. Sapiens evolved from a predecessor species such as Homo heidelbergensis, H. Erectus, or H. habilis, (to name but a few) but any hominid with the word “Homo” in front of it is considered a human, except of course that the particular H. Sapiens group to which we belong, are the only ones that remain.
Homo habilis inhabited parts of sub-Saharan Africa from roughly 2.4 to 1.5 million years ago, overlapping with H. erectus which first spread out around 1.9 million years ago.
H. erectus was a human of medium stature that walked upright. The braincase was low, the forehead was receded, and the nose, jaws, and palate were wide. The brain was smaller and the teeth larger than in modern humans. H. erectus appears to have been the first human species to control fire, some 1,000,000 years ago. The species seems to have flourished until some 300,000 years ago, before giving way to other 'humans' including Homo sapiens.
Australopiths were a group of now extinct creatures closely related to, if not actually ancestors of, modern human beings. The various species of Australopithecus lived during the Pliocene (5.3 to 2.6 million years ago) and Pleistocene (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) epochs. As characterized by the fossil evidence, they bore a combination of human- and apelike traits. Like humans, they were bipedal (that is, they walked on two legs), but, like apes, they had small brains. Perhaps the most famous specimen of Australopithecus is “Lucy,” a remarkably preserved fossilized skeleton from Ethiopia that has been dated to 3.2 mya.
The predecessors of modern humans are increasingly apelike as the fossil record is followed back through time. Bipedalism may have been established in the six-million-year-old australopith (Orrorin tugenensis,) found in central Kenya.
So, a lot of overlapping of earlier forms of ape-like 'men' that may have paved the way for 'modern' humans some 300,000 years ago.
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