“BIGGER AND BADDER”
THE EMERGENCE OF HOMO ERECTUS
1.8 million years ago
|Reconstruction of a group of Homo erectus at the “Peking Man” site of Zhoukoudian, China.
Credit: Illustration by John Sibbick, courtesy of John Sibbick Illustration. This illustration is used with permission. All rights reserved.
In 1879 naturalist Ernst Haeckel proposed a hypothetical “missing link” between apes and humans. He called this Pithecanthropus erectus. In 1891 Dutch army doctor Eugene Dubois found fossil human remains in Java that he named after Haeckel’s hypothetical species. Today we know that such proto-human fossils are members of our own genus but are of a different species, which we now call Homo erectus.
These fossils are known from Africa, East Asia, the Caucasus (Republic of Georgia), and possibly Europe. Homo erectus is associated with the handaxe industries of the Acheulean industry as well as the simpler Oldowan industry in some places. It is during this time that the first hominins migrated out of Africa and started populating Eurasia. Homo erectus had larger brains (~900 cc, about 2/3 the size of a modern human brain), massive faces with prominent brow ridges, and larger bodies with more human-like body proportions than earlier hominins.
Reconstruction of the skull of early Homo erectus from West Turkana, Kenya, ca. 1.5 million years ago.
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schick, courtesy of the Stone Age Institute. All rights reserved.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
Hundreds of fossils of Homo erectus have been found at well-dated sites in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Republic of Georgia, Italy, Spain, China, and Java. These are often associated with stone tools as well.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Homo erectus was an incredibly successful species, and outlasted the robust australopithecines. This species was adapted to tropical and temperate conditions and some of their populations were ancestral to modern humans.
This is Stanford University’s website about Homo erectus/ergaster
This website is about homo erectus.
This website provides a discussion of the relationship among the Homo species that ultimately led to Homo sapiens.