“BIG BRAINS, BIG FACES”
HOMO HEIDELBERGENSIS AND PROBABLY LANGUAGE
500,000 to 250,000 years ago
|Reconstruction of a group of Homo heidelbergensis on the coast of what is now England.
Credit: Illustration by John Sibbick, courtesy of John Sibbick Illustration. This illustration used with permission. All rights reserved.
Around 500,000 years ago, prehistoric humans in Africa and Europe evolved into creatures with brains rivaling the size of modern humans (~1250 cubic centimeters), yet still retaining the massive faces (and robust limbs) characteristic of earlier Homo. These large-brained forms were formerly called “archaic Homo sapiens” but many anthropologists now put these fossils into their own species.
It is likely that the European forms evolved into the now-extinct Neandertals (discussed below) and that the African forms were our direct ancestors, later evolving into anatomically modern humans or Homo sapiens. At the same time, it appears the East Asian hominin forms were still represented by Homo erectus forms, suggesting that human was not uniform across the Old World. Homo heidelbergensis derives its name from a lower jaw that was discovered in 19xx, deeply buried in ancient river deposits at a sand and gravel quarry in Mauer, Germany (near Heidelberg). This species made beautiful handaxes the first known wooden spears, and possibly the earliest ritualistic behavior (discussed in the next events).
|Reconstruction of the cranium of Homo heidelbergensis from the site of Broken Hill (Kabwe), Zambia, formerly known as the “Rhodesian Man,” ca. 500,000 years old.
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schick, courtesy of the Stone Age Institute. All rights reserved.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
Fossil human remains from Africa (e.g. Bodo, Ethiopia; Kabwe, Zambia; and Elansfontein, South Africa) and Europe (e.g. Petralona, Greece; Atapuerca, Spain; Arago, France) dating to between 500,000 and 250,000 years ago bear witness to this transition to larger-brained forms overlapping in size with modern humans.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Homo heidelbergensis was the first fossil human form that shows modern brain dimensions, suggesting that there was strong selection in our ancestors for larger group sizes, better foraging skills, and more complex social and communication skills. These forms were at the very threshold of modern humanity, and were the reason we are here today.
This Smithsonian webpage provides a brief description of Homo heidelbergensis.
This is a comprehensive website about Homo heidelbergensis.
This website provides a discussion of Homo heidelbergensis and relationship to modern Homo sapiens.
This is an article from BBC Science and Nature, The first Europeans – one million years ago.
This webpage discusses the genus Homo.
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