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Homo Erectus

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Homo erectus: Discoveries


Homo erectus lived in eastern Africa, central Africa and Asia (China in particular) from 1.8 m.y.a. to about 200,000 y.a. The first discovery of Homo erectus was made in October of 1891, in the Solo River area of Java., by Eugene Dubois. Other finds in Java such as the site of Modjoketo is estimated as being 1.8 m.y.a. Where as the Sangrian site dates its Homo erectus finds at 1.6 m.y.a. The Ngandon site in Java has also been fruitful, producing specimens with dates ranging from 50,000 to 25,000 y.a.


Substantial finds have also been made in China. At Peking (Beijing) and the Chenjiawo site, fossils were dated to 650,000 y.a. In 1964 at a site called Gongwanglng a partial cranium was found dated to 1.15 m.y.a.; this is the oldest fossil found in China. Africa has also yielded numerous sites containing Homo erectus. Olduvai Gorge, which was dated to 1.4 m.y.a. and East Turkana, dating to 1.8 m.y.a. The most substantial find was in West Turkana at Nariokotome, where in 1985 an almost complete Homo erectus skeleton was found dating to 1.6 m.y.a.



Homo erectus: Morphology


Here, as in Homo habilis, there is an increase in brain size. The average brain size was between 750 cm3 and 1250 cm3. This shows an overall increase of 40 % from Homo habilis.Cranial shape reflects the brain size increase by thickening of the cranial walls. The supraorbital tori (brow ridges) become larger and there is a projection of the nuchal torus (base of the skull). Due to widening at the base of the skull and a maximum breath below the ear openings, the scull has a pentagonal contour. There is little forehead development.

There is a large increase in body size. From the information of the Nariokotome skeleton adults weighted well over 100 pounds with a mean height of 5.6 feet. There was a large amount of sexual dimorphism, where males were much larger in comparison to females. There was also an increase in robusticity. Dentition shows a trend towards larger teeth, with the incisor teeth on the back having a scooped out shoveled look.


Homo erectus: Culture


Acheulian hand axe, front and side view (below)


Homo Erectus: Culture



At Zhoukoudan in China over 100,000 artifacts were found in association with Homo erectus individuals. Early (460,000-420,000 y.a.) tools were large and made of soft sandstone; later (300,000-230,000 y.a.) smaller tools were made of fine quartz and flint. Common tools were choppers, scrapers, point bunns, and awls made from reformed flakes. Bone and horns were also used to create tools. There is evidence of deliberate sculpting of dear skulls into a bowl shape, most likely for drinking.


In Africa and in Western Europe a new tool technology developed, the Acheulian. These tools were made by working the core rock on both sides to produce sharper edges. Wood and bone were also used to refine the edges of the tools. This technology was used for over a million years. The tools were used for cutting, scraping, pounding, and digging. The main look of the tool was that of a hand axe. These tools were never found in Asia.


Homo erectus were hunters, gatherers, and scavengers. They ate deer, horse, fruit, berries, and ostrich eggs. For permanent shelter they lived in caves in small groups. Layers of ash at the Zhoukoudain cave over 18 feet deep suggest the use of controlled fire in hearths, used for cooking and warmth. It is unknown if Homo erectus wore clothing since this organic material is unperceivable. It is thought that they would have worn some type of animal skins to protect them from the harsh winters. From comparison of all specimens found the life span was only until 50 years of age.

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