We present a detailed description of mimetic muscles in extinct human species, framed in comparative and phylogenetic contexts. Using known facial landmarks, we assessed the arrangement of muscles of facial expression in Homo sapiens, neanderthalensis, erectus, heidelbergensis and ergaster. In modern humans, several perioral muscles are proportionally smaller in size (levator labii superioris, zygomaticus minor, zygomaticus major and triangularis) and/or located more medially (levator labii superioris, zygomaticus minor and quadratus labii inferioris) than in other human species. As mimetic musculature is examined in the most ancient specimens up to the most recent, there is a general trend towards an increase in size of corrugator supercillii and triangularis. Homo ergaster’s mimetic musculature closely resembles modern Homo, both in size and in location; furthermore, Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis share many muscular features. The extinct human species had an elaborate and highly graded facial communication system, but it remained qualitatively different from that reported in modern Homo. Compared with other human species, Homo sapiens clearly exhibits a lower degree of facial expression, possibly correlated with more sophisticated social behaviours and with enhanced speech capabilities. The presence of anatomical variation among species of the genus Homo raises important questions about the possible taxonomic value of mimetic muscles.