Since its discovery, it has been argued that Homo habilis should be reclassified as Australopithecus habilis, on the basis of small size and some rather primitive attributes .
Louis and Mary Leakey first discovered H. habilis in 1955. It was first formally described by paleoanthropologists Mr. Leakey, Phillip V. Tobias, and John R. Napier on the basis of a jawbone with some teeth, parietal bone fragments, and hand bones of the 1.75 Ma juvenile OH 7. The species name habilis was given on recommendation by South African anthropologist Raymond Dart, and is Latin for "able, handy, mentally skillful, vigorous".
The earliest specimen, LD 350-1, dating to 2.8 million years ago, was argued to be intermediate between Australopithecus and H. habilis. The fossil was claimed as the earliest evidence of the genus Homo known to date. The individual in question lived just after a major climate shift in the region, when forests and waterways were rapidly replaced by arid savannah.
Homo habilis is considered to be the ancestor of the more gracile and sophisticated H. ergaster (the African H. erectus). Debates continue over whether all of the known fossils are properly attributed to the species, and some paleoanthropologists regard the taxon as invalid, made up of various specimens of Australopithecus and Homo. Since H. habilis and H. erectus coexisted, an isolated subpopulation of H. habilis may have evolved into H. erectus, and other subgroups remained as unchanged H. habilis until their extinction.
The discoverers of the Georgian Dmanisi skull suggested that all the contemporary groups of early Homo in Africa–including H. ergaster, H. habilis, and H. rudolfensis–are all different stages in the evolution of H. erectus, making them a chronospecies.