When it comes to figuring out exactly how many distinct species of humans existed, it gets complicated pretty quickly, especially because researchers keep unearthing new fossils that end up being totally separate and previously unknown species.
“The number is mounting, and it’ll vary depending on whom you talk to,” said John Stewart, an evolutionary paleoecologist at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom. Some researchers argue that the species known as Homo erectus is in fact made up of several different species, including Homo georgicus and Homo ergaster.
“It’s all about the definition of a species and the degree to which you accept variation within a species,” Stewart told Live Science. “It can become a slightly irritating and pedantic discussion, because everyone wants an answer. But the truth is that it really does depend.”
“The chimpanzee and us have evolved from a common ancestor,” Stewart said. If we decide that humans are everything that arrived after our split from ancient chimpanzees about 6 million to 7 million years ago, then it’s likely to be a diverse group. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has listed at least 21 human species that are recognized by most scientists.