There are many techniques that paleoanthropologists use to analyze hominid fossils. First of all radio carbon dating can tell us how old a fossil is, within a certain margin of error, so we can situate it chronologically. Second, they look at features of the bone structure compare this to other fossils as well as current species. For example we know the Australopithecus robustus is not one of our direct ancestors because its jaw developed in the opposite direction then our own when compared to our common ancestors. Today paleoanthropologists can also use genetic comparisons between human populations and our primate cousins to learn roughly when our species divided and where humans developed.
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