Homo erectus

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Homo erectus
Homo erectus skeleton of the approximately nine year old "Nariokotome boy"

Homo erectus skeleton of the nine-year-old
" Nariokotome boy "

Temporal occurrence
2.0 to? Million years
Human (Hominoidea)
Apes (Hominidae)
Homo erectus
Scientific name
Homo erectus
Dubois , 1892

Homo erectus is an extinct species in the genus Homo . From the Pleistocene populations of Africa ascribed to Homo erectus ,the Neanderthals probably developed in Europeand - parallel to them, but independently of them - modern humans ( Homo sapiens )in Africa. According to Richard Leakey , Homo erectus “was the first hominine species to use fire; the first to use hunting as an essential element in securing their food supplies; the first that could walk like a modern person. ”The differentiation of Homo erectus from other species of the genus Homo is, however, controversialin specialist circles - between so-called rags and splinters .

The first fossils of Homo erectus were discovered in Asia from the 1890s . For decades this led to the paleoanthropologists coming to the false conclusion that modern humans developed from ape-like ancestors in Asia, although as early as 1871 Charles Darwin had suspected that humans developed in Africa because their closest relatives - chimpanzees and gorillas - are based there. This miscalculation also prevented two decades, the recognition of the first African Australopithecus africanus- - discovery - the 1,924 recovered child Taung - as belonging to the ancestors of modern man. This was only recognized as an error after very old hominine fossils were discovered in Africa in April 1964 by Louis Leakey as Homo habilis at the base of the genus Homo .


The name of the genus Homo is derived from the Latin homo [ ˈhɔmoː ], "human". The species name erectus is also derived from Latin, namely from erigere ("straighten up"). Homo erectus therefore means "the erect man".

The first three fossils, Trinil I to III, which were discovered by Eugène Dubois in 1891/92 and known as the Java man , Dubois initially named Anthropopithecus erectus ("erect man-ape"), derived from ancient Greek ἄνθρωπος anthropos , German Human ' and Greek πίθηκος, old Gr. pronounced píthēkos ("monkey"). In 1894, Dubois changed the genus name in a specialist article to Pithecanthropus erectus ("erect ape-man") and described the species as a transitional form that led to modern man. Dubois took up a suggestion that Ernst Haeckel had recommended in 1863, when he described a hypothetical transition form between humans and monkeys and named it Pithecanthropus (derived from pithecus = monkey and anthropus = human).

In 1944 Theodosius Dobzhansky published the essay On species and races of living and fossil man , in which he argued that there was only one single, varied species of hominini at any one time . In 1950, Ernst Mayr supported Dobzhansky's assumptions in a lecture at the Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology and convinced the paleoanthropologists to assign all alleged human ancestors discovered in the meantime to the genus Homo and to refrain in future from naming individual finds with a genus and species name ; Instead, such fossils should be named after their origin (for example Sterkfontein find instead of “Plesianthropus” for Mrs. Ples ). As a result, the fossils referred to as Pithecanthropus erectus were renamed again, that according to the international rules for zoological nomenclature the species name erectus was retained and the three fossils discovered by Eugène Dubois are now the type specimens of Homo erectus .

Initial description

The finds by Eugène Dubois : "Trinil II" skull roof , molar and femur
Skull roof " Sangiran II ", original. Koenigswald collection in the Senckenberg Nature Museum .
Note the bulge above the left eye
Sangiran IV : upper jaw with palate (original, 1.6 mya ; Koenigswald collection in the Senckenberg Nature Museum)
Sangiran 17 = Pithecanthropus VIII = Homo erectus , discovered 1969 (copy)
Lower jaw of Ternifine , initially referred to as Atlanthropus mauritanicus

The holotype of Homo erectus are three fossils recovered by Eugène Dubois on the Indonesian island of Java : a skull roof discovered in October 1891 with a distinctive, continuous transverse bulge of the frontal bone above the root of the nose (" bulge above the eye "), archive number Trinil II ; a completely preserved thigh bone (Trinil III) discovered in August 1892, resembling the shape and structure of the thigh bone of anatomically modern humans, which Dubois interpreted as an indication that its owner moved upright like modern humans; as well as a large molar (Trinil I) discovered in August 1891 .

Tooth and skullcap but were first from Dubois as a fossil of a non- hominid apes been interpreted because Dubois a resemblance to the recent chimpanzee thought he recognized. Therefore, he initially assigned the find to the new species Anthropopithecus erectus ; Anthropopithecus was the genus name of the chimpanzees at that time.

The three fossils discovered by Eugène Dubois were considered to be the first finds of fossils of the hominini outside Europe and at the same time as the oldest to be discovered from this clade . Because they were found on the edge of a former body of water, dating the bones is problematic; According to current knowledge, the skull roof is ascribed an age of around one million years. However, the roof of the skull has so few characteristic features that it cannot be reliably compared with other fossils. The assignment of the molar tooth to the genus Homo is now considered to be uncertain, and the thigh bone is interpreted by some researchers as belonging to anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ).

The first description in Dubois' publication Paleontologische onderzoekingen op Java is originally dated to the year 1892, which is why the full name of the species is mostly Homo erectus DUBOIS, 1892 ; However, if the publication, as sometimes claimed, did not appear until 1893, the species Homo erectus DUBOIS, 1893 , would have to be named.


Homo erectus are assigned to fossils from the Pleistocene , the oldest of which are around two million years old and thus come from the earliest Old Pleistocene . Some researchers (so-called lumpers ) are still finding fossils from the Middle Pleistocene of Homo erectus , so that this "early man" - from this point of view - colonized Africa , Asia and Europe for almost two million years .

From when to when a fossil species existed can usually only be determined approximately. On the one hand, the fossil record is incomplete: there are usually only very few specimen copies for a fossil species. On the other hand, the dating methods indicate a certain age, but with considerable inaccuracy ; this inaccuracy then forms the outer limits for the “from-to” information for lifetimes. All published age information is therefore provisional, which may also have to be revised after further specimen copies have been found. The latest evidence of Homo erectus is the discovery of the fossils, initially referred to as Homo soloensis , which were ascribed an age of 117,000 to 108,000 years in 2019.


Homo erectus is considered to be the first species of the genus Homo , which spread far beyond Africa. Today, numerous fossil discoveries are the Homo erectus assigned by their discoverers initially own genus and species names had been given, such as that of Eugène Dubois named Anthropopithecus ( " Java Man ") supported by Davidson Black named Sinanthropus pekinensis ( " Beijing- Mensch "), the Telanthropus capensis named by John T. Robinson (" Target man ", a find from Swartkrans , South Africa ) and the Atlanthropus mauritanicus named by Camille Arambourg (" Atlas man ", three lower jaw fragments from Ternifine near Muaskar , Algeria ; occasionally also: Homo mauritanicus or Homo erectus mauritanicus ).

At the same time, there are different views among paleoanthropologists about the differentiation of Homo erectus from other species of the genus Homo . Since around 1990, the oldest, around 1.8 to 1.5 million year old African finds of Homo erectus - especially by US paleoanthropologists - have been identified as a separate chronospecies and referred to as Homo ergaster . Opinions also differ with regard to more recent finds from the Middle Pleistocene , which some researchers refer to Homo erectus , but others refer to as Homo rhodesiensis , Homo antecessor or Homo heidelbergensis . Homo floresiensis may also belong to the late Homo erectus group .

Using genetic markers ( Alu sequences ), it was estimated that the population of Homo erectus 1.2 million years ago comprised only around 55,000 individuals worldwide.

The Dmanisi fossils discovered in Georgia from 1991 onwards are also attributed to Homo erectus .

Finds from Asia

Dubois' assignment of the fossils he discovered in Trinil to the hominini was initially extremely controversial. Only after the Peking people were discovered in the 1920s and the fossil Sangiran II and other similarly old finds in the 1930s by Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald on Java , the Java people were assigned to the ancestors of the modern people as secured. However, these finds were each named with their own species name (mostly after their place of discovery), and additional generic names were suggested so that the fossils from Java a. a. as Homo soloensis , Homo modjokertensis , Pithecanthropus robustus , Pithecanthropus dubius and Meganthropus palaeojavanicus . The fossils from the vicinity of the village of Ngandong ( Homo soloensis ) found on the Solo River and assigned to 14 individuals were of particular importance , as they are probably the most recent evidence of the existence of Homo erectus .

Finds from Africa

The fossil KNM-ER 3733
(copy), Senckenbergmuseum

Since the search for ancestors of modern humans initially concentrated on Asia and the first African finds of the genus Australopithecus were not accepted as belonging to the hominini for decades, there was hardly any specific search for fossils in Africa until the 1940s. The first fossils , later attributed to Homo erectus - for example from South Africa ( Saldanha 1 , 1953) and Algeria ( lower jaw of Ternifine , 1954) - were accidental finds; they were mostly poorly preserved and initially received their own generic names (for example Atlanthropus mauritanicus ). For the first time in 1961, African finds, the fossils from Swartkrans, known since 1949 and previously known as Telanthropus capensis , were interpreted as Homo erectus . From the early 1960s onwards, numerous other finds were made, mainly from Kenya , Tanzania and Ethiopia , but also from Morocco (Thomas quarry near Casablanca , 1969), including the fossil skull roof OH 9 from Olduvai, recovered in 1960 and the one from Turkana in 1975 -See (Koobi Fora) discovered skull roof KNM-ER 3733, both of which are similar to the finds from Sangiran ("Java people") and Zhoukoudian ("Beijing people").


The body structure of Homo erectus could be reconstructed more precisely on the basis of the numerous finds in Asia than that of the earlier Hominini species. Arm and leg bones were discovered from relatively large and relatively small individuals; However, it has not yet been possible to clarify whether this is an expression of a pronounced sexual dimorphism or a generally large statistical range of body size. Finds from Africa are also attributed to a considerable range of variation in the thickness of the femur and pelvis .


Characteristic of Homo erectus is therefore the "barrel-shaped" and voluminous trunk compared to modern humans as well as its strong and compared to older species of the hominini larger skeleton with particularly thick-walled skull bones (skull roof between 6 and 11 mm) and strong bulges above the eyes Function is still a mystery today. ”When viewed from behind, the skull is noticeably wide in relation to its height.

The lower jaw of Homo erectus was wider and slightly V-shaped compared to Homo sapiens . A protruding chin was missing. In the older specialist literature, the body size is estimated at a maximum of 1.60 meters, as meaningful skeletal material from the area of ​​the trunk and legs was initially missing. Finds from Africa ( Lake Turkana ) later led to the fact that adult individuals of Homo erectus are now assigned a height of 1.45 to 1.80 meters. The body weight is estimated at 50 to 60 kg. The fossil KNM WT 15000, known as the Nariokotome boy, is particularly well preserved and therefore particularly informative for the entire body structure .

The brain volume of Homo erectus increased significantly over the two million years of its existence; u. a. therefore the information about his brain volume varies very strongly even in the same region: from 650 to 1250  cm³ for adult individuals (for comparison: Homo sapiens 1100 to 1800 cm³). As a rule, however, the volume was significantly larger than that of Homo habilis (approx. 600 to 700 cm³) or Homo rudolfensis (approx. 750 cm³). The brain volume of the homo erectus finds from Sangiran and Trinil is given as around 930 cm³, that of the Peking people with around 1060 cm³, that of the finds from Ngandong with around 1150 cm³.

An important indication of the length of childhood compared to modern humans was provided by a scientifically described, almost completely preserved pelvis of a female Homo erectus from Ethiopia, whose age was given as 1.4 to 0.9 million years. Contrary to what was expected on the basis of earlier, albeit less informative, pelvic findings from Homo erectus , the fossil pelvis (archive number BSN49 / P27) still resembles to a considerable extent the features known from Australopithecus : the pelvic ring is relatively large, so that a relatively large skull at birth fit through with a relatively developed brain; the width of the pelvis indicates that the body is quite broad overall. From this it was deduced that the phase of childhood, during which the brain grew to a full size, was considerably shorter than in Homo sapiens , because the evolutionary trend towards an extension of the childhood phase was accompanied by a reduced developmental state of the brain at birth . According to this study, Homo erectus was born with around 34 to 36 percent of the brain volume of an adult, which corresponds to a value between chimpanzees (40 percent) and humans (around 28 percent). The oldest surviving “modern” basin is around 100,000 years old and comes from a cave ( Skhul ) in today's Israel .

The only surviving child's skull of Homo erectus ("Mojokerto child"; archive number Perning I), which was discovered in Java in 1939 and dated to 1.8 million years in 1994 using the 39 Ar- 40 Ar method , had an age at death of attributed to about a year. The child at this point had a brain volume of about 70 to 90 percent of that of an adult; For comparison: children of Homo sapiens at the age of one have only about 50 percent of the brain volume of an adult.

Homo erectus already had 1.51 to 1.53 million year old fossil footprints uncovered near Ileret (east of Lake Turkana in Kenya) , both with a structure of the feet essentially corresponding to that of modern humans a comparable form of upright, two-legged locomotion. This enabled him to "cover greater distances and get into more diverse habitats ," which in turn was the prerequisite for colonizing other continents. Based on a group of footprints, the researchers also deduced the weight and thus the gender of the people. These analyzes showed "that several adult men belonged to the group, which indicates a certain tolerance, possibly even cooperation."

The development of the shoulder anatomically similar to Homo sapiens and thus the biomechanical prerequisites for a throwing technique that made hunting with spears possible, is dated to the time of the early Homo erectus about two million years ago. This could have played an important role in hominization .

In 2007 a roof of Homo erectus skull was recovered from 500,000-year-old travertine in Turkey , which had clear signs of meningitis caused by tuberculosis (leptomeningitis tuberculosa).


Direct fossil evidence for the diet of the early representatives of Homo erectus is not known. However, from the smaller molars compared to the australopithecines, it is concluded that their diet at least partly also contained fruits and other relatively soft components, but more often included roots, meat and other substances that required vigorous chewing. However, what proportion of the prey was in the diet of the early homo erectus populations and what proportion of meat consumption was procured as scavengers is controversial.

The late representatives of Homo erectus  - however, they are often assigned to Homo heidelbergensis - can already be described as hunters and gatherers . In the Eugène Dubois collection in the Naturalis Museum of Natural History in Leiden, for example, there are numerous mussel shells that are ascribed to Homo erectus and that were dated 540,000 to 430,000 years ago. Numerous shells were pierced with the help of a sharp object, in places that were presumably used to open the shells of living mussels. According to a study published in 2020, Homo erectus was presumably capable of endurance hunts under the climatic conditions in today's Kalahari , which could have lasted up to 5½ hours without these hunters having to carry water with them.

Model calculations came to the result that the weak chewing apparatus with receding chewing muscles in comparison with older species of hominini can be explained by the use of stone tools when chopping food.


Homo erectus lived in what is known as the Paleolithic Age . The use of stone implements has already been proven for its earliest representatives . These first stone tools ( chopper and chopping tools ) belong to the Oldowan culture . Around 1.75 million years ago, the Acheulean culture, defined by hand axes , began in Africa , which is associated with Homo erectus and is documented by finds from the west bank of Lake Turkana and from southern Ethiopia. The technique of tool production is difficult to learn; Therefore it can be assumed that Homo erectus already had a pronounced handing down of the necessary knowledge and the necessary intellectual abilities in this epoch . From the Dana Aoule North (DAN5) site of the Gona site (Ethiopia), skull fragments 1.6 to 1.5 million years old and - in direct connection with them - both Oldowan and Acheuléen-type stone implements were recovered indicates that Homo erectus made tools of both types in this era and in this region.

The oldest stone tools discovered in Asia and definitely dated come from the Attirampakkam site, known since 1863, in northwest Chennai (Southeast India) and belong to the Acheulean culture. A minimum age of 1.07 million years was calculated for them using the aluminum-beryllium method ; The hand axes, cleavers and scrapers that have been found in layers of different depths may even be up to 1.5 million years old. Two unilaterally worked hand axes, the minimum age of which is 920,000 years, were found during the excavations in the Cagayan Valley on the Philippine island of Luzon . The oldest hand axes discovered in China come from the Bose Basin and are 800,000 years old. It is noteworthy that only very primitive stone tools are known of the early Homo erectus sites on Java; none of these tools were machined in this region on both sides.

The oldest stone tools discovered in Europe come from the Sierra de Atapuerca in Spain and are 1.2 to 1.1 million years old.

The 1.7 million year old female skeleton KNM-ER 1808 from Kenya had bone malformations that are characteristic of hypervitaminosis A , caused by the consumption of extremely large amounts of liver. The deformations of the bones were so severe that the paleoanthropologists assume that the individual was almost unable to move due to pain in the weeks to months before his death; from this it was concluded that it was presumably provided with water and food - an early form of social bonding.

The beginning of the active use of fire by Homo erectus is controversial. The oldest secured fire pits, which were undoubtedly created by humans, come from the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa and are around a million years old. Around 790,000 years ago, fire was used at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in today's Israel . In Europe, the earliest fireplaces that are considered secure date from around 400,000 before today; they were discovered in Schöningen and Beeches Pit ( Suffolk , England ).

There are no known archaeological finds that could indicate the making or wearing of clothing.

To distinguish it from other species of the genus Homo

Spread and further development of Homo erectus , perspective A: a species with various regional variants
Spread and further development of Homo erectus , perspective B: the oldest African and the more recent European finds are elevated to their own chronospecies
Spread and development of Homo erectus . View C: only the Asian finds are assigned to Homo erectus , whereas the African finds are assigned to Homo heidelbergensis , and in the transition from this to Homo sapiens another Chronospecies is established.

For decades, Homo erectus was considered by paleoanthropologists to be the hominini species that first colonized all three continents of the Old World . For several years, however , this consensus has been questioned, especially by US researchers. “The key question is whether the different hominin forms of Asia, Africa and Europe really belong to the same or different species.” The fossils of Homo erectus known from Africa, Asia and Europe show “a large morphological distribution , which some researchers do split into several lineages , while others classify them as a single polytypic species, “that is - similar to the variety of forms in Homo sapiens - as regional variants of a species.

The view, advocated by Berhane Asfaw , Meave Leakey and Tim White , among others , that Homo erectus had numerous regional variants is supported by skull and thigh findings on the Bouri Peninsula on the Awash River in Ethiopia . These include the BOU-VP-2/66 skull roof, which was recovered on December 27, 1997 and dated to an age of around one million years. A skull volume of 995 cm 3 was derived from this find and - supported by the analysis of several thigh bone fragments - a close morphological proximity to similarly old Asian finds.

In a further comparison of the skull features of Asian and African finds, a study published in 2008 argued that a split of the oldest African finds from Homo erectus as Homo ergaster is not based on clear features, but that there are significant differences between the finds from Africa and the finds from Georgia , on the other hand from Asia. Jeffrey H. Schwartz had already argued in 2004 that the morphological differences between the finds from Trinil and Sangiran on the one hand and from Africa on the other hand were so great that their merging under the name Homo erectus "may be more of a historical episode than a biological reality".

Homo erectus and Homo ergaster

The reason for these very different scientific perspectives is u. a. that the shape of some of the African fossils associated with Homo erectus deviates significantly from the type specimen of this species (Trinil II). From this, Bernard Wood derived the authorization in 1992 to separate the hominine fossils from about 1.9 to 1.4 million years ago as Homo ergaster , which had been associated with Homo erectus . As a result, the African fossils of this epoch, including the type specimen of Homo ergaster , the lower jaw KNM-ER 992 discovered by Richard Leakey in 1971 , have been known by some researchers as Homo ergaster , but by most researchers - as since the 1950s - Common for years - to be referred to as Homo erectus .

Indeed, between 1.8 and 1.5 million years ago, Homo erectus' physique changed significantly so that it looked "very different from anything that came before it." The changes included a trend towards shorter arms, longer legs and an energy-saving cushioning of the foot arch and big toe, as evidenced by the Ileret footprints ; the gait of the earlier hominini was still similar to that of today's African great apes, due to the poor arches of the foot.

The separation of the fossils attributed to Homo ergaster from Homo erectus contradicted in 2013, however, the researchers of the fossils of Dmanisi (Georgia). The morphological diversity of these very well-preserved finds indicates that the approximately 1.8 million year-old African homo- fossils primarily reflect the variation between local populations of a single evolving lineage "appropriately named Homo erectus ."

Homo erectus and Homo habilis / Homo rudolfensis

Since its discovery in the early 1960s, Homo habilis has been considered the most likely ancestor of Homo erectus . In 2007, however, an upper jaw fragment was described (KNM-ER 42703 from the Ileret site, east of Lake Turkana), which was assigned to Homo habilis and dated to an age of 1.44 million years; also a well-preserved cranial roof that is 1.55 million years old and attributed to Homo erectus . According to these dates and other, earlier dated finds, Homo habilis and Homo erectus coexisted for up to half a million years. The scientists suspect that the two species occupied different ecological niches and were therefore not direct competitors.

These findings also mean that Homo habilis can not have been an ancestor of Homo erectus ; the most likely ancestor of Homo ergaster / Homo erectus is therefore currently Homo rudolfensis . The family relationships of Homo habilis , Homo rudolfensis and Homo ergaster / Homo erectus are, however, controversial in specialist circles: The height of Homo erectus , his reduced sexual dimorphism , the length of the limbs and, in general, his body proportions differ so much from Homo rudolfensis that both Species should be considered as ancestors or descendants primarily because of the chronological sequence of their occurrence and less because of morphological characteristics.

Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis

The modest number of hominini finds from the period 2 million to 500,000 years ago in the early 1950s had led to all of these finds being assigned to the species Homo erectus . This was also true for the lower jaw of the wall , to be first described after the nearby university town of Homo heidelbergensis had named; However, until the 1980s this designation remained - if at all - only related to the lower jaw of Mauer. The reason for the rejection of another Chronospecies was that the phylogenetic development in Europe progressed from Homo erectus to Neanderthals ; any further demarcation is arbitrary, which is why the paleoanthropologists refrained from using the species name Homo heidelbergensis . Even the lower jaw of Mauer was therefore identified as a local (European) late form of Homo erectus , as Homo erectus heidelbergensis . The French discoverers of Homo erectus tautavelensis , the Eastern European explorers of Homo erectus bilzingslebensis and Alfred Czarnetzki , the researcher of Homo erectus reilingensis from Reilingen, argue similarly .

A second group of researchers today describes the up to 1.8 million year old African fossils as Homo ergaster or Homo erectus and derives the settlement of Europe and Asia from them, but names the European descendants of these African emigrants as Homo heidelbergensis . According to their publications, the development runs first in Africa from Homo ergaster to Homo erectus and then in Europe via Homo heidelbergensis to Neanderthal. This position can be seen, for example, from the database of the Human Evolution Research Center (Berkeley), which, in addition to a very old find from Israel, exclusively assigns European finds of the species Homo heidelbergensis . Bernard Wood justified the assignment of the European fossils to a separate chronospecies as early as 1984 with the fact that the similarity of the Asian and African finds was "clear and unambiguous", but the correspondence of the European finds was not convincingly demonstrated .

Finally, a third group of researchers calls for an even more extensive change in the allocation of African fossils to a species of the genus Homo . From them "this comprehensive taxon was split up for chronological and geographical considerations", Homo erectus has since been identified by these researchers as "a representative of a specifically East Asian lineage". The oldest African fossils, which other scientists have identified as Homo erectus , are referred to by these researchers as Homo ergaster , while the younger fossils , which are directly linked to Homo ergaster, are called Homo heidelbergensis . According to this convention , Homo ergaster developed into Homo heidelbergensis already in Africa , while groups of Homo ergaster emigrated from Africa to Asia developed into Homo erectus in Asia .

Since the paleoanthropologists have not yet been able to agree on a common convention, for a number of years - depending on the preference of the individual authors - certain fossils have been placed in specialist publications, sometimes of one kind, sometimes of another. It has even been argued that even the limitation of Homo erectus to Asia still bundles African fossils that look far too different into one species. The British paleoanthropologist Leslie Aiello was quoted in the journal Science , for example , that the African Homo heidelbergensis is a "trash can taxon"; she suggested that the species Homo heidelbergensis be reserved for European fossils and that the African descendants of Homo ergaster be elevated to a new species that has not yet been named.

Homo erectus , Homo rhodesiensis and Homo antecessor

The proposal of that group of researchers to identify the immediate African descendants of Homo ergaster as Homo heidelbergensis has the consequence that the African Homo heidelbergensis defined in this way has to be considered an ancestor of Homo sapiens . If, on the other hand, the alternative reading is used in a specialist publication, according to which Homo heidelbergensis is a forerunner of the Neanderthals that first developed from Homo erectus in Europe , then there is no such close family relationship between Homo heidelbergensis and Homo sapiens .

The dissection of the African Homo erectus became completely confusing when it was proposed to split off the immediate ancestors of Homo sapiens discovered in Africa from the African Homo heidelbergensis and to designate them as Homo rhodesiensis - a proposal that has not yet been accepted internationally. These African fossils, which are around 200,000 years old, are still today - depending on the respective research group - referred to as early Homo sapiens , archaic Homo sapiens , Homo rhodesiensis , later Homo heidelbergensis or later Homo erectus .

Spanish researchers finally added another name to the variety of names in 1994: the homo antecessor , previously only known from Spain , whose classification as an independent species is, however, controversial. Some Spanish researchers are of the opinion in their publications that Homo antecessor developed from Homo erectus in Africa , then immigrated to Europe and developed here into Homo heidelbergensis . Other researchers assign the older part of the Spanish fossils to Homo erectus and the younger part to Homo heidelbergensis .

Historical background

The variety of different demarcations has its origin, among other things, in Ernst Mayr's argument that the ancestors of Homo sapiens had a similarly variable body structure as the now-humans and it is inappropriate to emphasize the differences between the fossils from different sites. However, he did not develop a catalog of species-specific characteristics. Instead, he called the oldest finds from South Africa with a geographical assignment as Homo transvaalensis (after the sites in the Transvaal province , today the name is Australopithecus africanus ); between this species and Homo sapiens he only placed Homo erectus . Thus "all finds of the early and middle Pleistocene with a brain volume between approximately 800 and 1200 cubic centimeters were assigned to a single species". Mayr's specifications, which among other things assumed a straightforward transformation from the older species to the next younger, were not supported by clear descriptions of the characteristics ( diagnoses ) that distinguish these three species . For this reason, and to the extent that the view later prevailed that there were also extinct "side branches" in the human family tree , many researchers tended to emphasize the differences between the fossils and subsequently increase the variety of names again. In addition, it has been repeatedly argued that the type specimen of Homo erectus , Trinil II, had some very special "derived" traits that "preclude" the fossil from being "the ancestor of any other homo species, including Homo sapiens ." However, the assignment of the fossils to Homo ergaster is similarly unclear ; Here there is the objection that the anatomy of its type specimen, the lower jaw fragment KNM-ER 992, differs considerably from the lower jaw of the Nariokotome boy , which is also set to Homo ergaster .

According to Ian Tattersall , for example, in 1979 the skull roof OH 9 (“Chellean man”) from Tanzania, in 1998 the skull UA 31 from Buia ( Afar , Eritrea ), and in 2002 the skull roof BOU-VP-2/66 (“Daka Calvaria”) were found at the site Bouri in Ethiopia and in 2003 the skull fragment from Olorgesailie (Kenya) assigned to Homo erectus , although characteristic features of these four finds differ both from the type specimen of the species from Java and from one another. In a review on the origin of Homo sapiens , Jeffrey H. Schwartz and Ian Tattersall came to the following conclusion:

“Any effort to trace the origin of H. sapiens directly back to H. erectus depends on which finds are assigned to the latter species, which then has a direct impact on those scenarios, when, where and, depending on the extent of speculation, how H. erectus produced by H. sapiens . "


  • Jean-Jacques Hublin : Paleoanthropology: Homo erectus and the Limits of a Paleontological Species. In: Current Biology. Volume 24, No. 2, 2014, pp. R82-R84, doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2013.12.006
  • Andrew Kramer: Human taxonomic diversity in the pleistocene: Does Homo erectus represent multiple hominid species? In: American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Volume 91, No. 2, 1993, pp. 161-171, doi: 10.1002 / ajpa.1330910203
  • Bernard Wood : The origin of Homo erectus. In: Courier Research Institute Senckenberg. Volume 69, 1984, pp. 99-111
  • Peter Andrews : An alternative interpretation of the characters used to define Homo erectus. In: Courier Research Institute Senckenberg. Volume 69, 1984, pp. 167-175
  • Eugène Dubois : Paleontological onderzoekingen op Java. Verslag van het Mijnwezen, 3rd Qu. 1892, pp. 10-14. - A translation of this 1882 first description of Anthropopithecus erectus (= Homo erectus ) by the Berkeley Scientific Translation Service appeared in: W. Eric Meikle, Sue Taylor Parker (ed.): Naming our Ancestors. An Anthology of Hominid Taxonomy. Waveland Press, Prospect Heights (Illinois) 1994, pp. 37-40, ISBN 0-88133-799-4
  • Phillip Tobias and Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald : A Comparison Between the Olduvai Hominines and those of Java and some Implications for Hominid Phylogeny. In: Nature . Volume 204, 1964, pp. 515-518, doi: 10.1038 / 204515a0

See also

Web links

Commons : Homo erectus  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Homo erectus  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c From erectus developed - both - independently Homo heidelbergensis and Neandertaler (Eurasian) and Homo sapiens (in Africa), and presumably Homo floresiensis (in East Asia); see Fig. 10: “Spread and development of Homo erectus . A “date of extinction” cannot therefore be dated.
  2. ^ Richard Leakey : The origin of human kind. Phoenix, a division of Orion Books Ltd., 1995, p. XIV
  3. ^ Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. John Murray, London 1871, Volume 1, p. 199: “In each great region of the world the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is therefore probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man's nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere. "
  4. ^ Bernard Wood : Fifty years after Homo habilis. In: Nature . Volume 508, No. 7494, 2014, pp. 31-33, doi: 10.1038 / 508031a
  5. ^ Eugène Dubois published his research results quarterly in the beginning of the reports of the mining industry ("Verslag van het Mijnwezen") of the Dutch colonial administration; it was named in the report for the third quarter of 1892, (published 1893), pp. 10–14; see: Aleš Hrdlička : The skeletal remains of early man. Smithsonian Institution, 1930; Full text
  6. ^ Eugène Dubois: Pithecanthropus erectus: a human-like transitional form from Java. Landes-Druckerei, Batavia 1894
  7. ^ Stephanie Müller et al .: Sangiran II . A skullcap and its scientific interpretation. In: Nature and Museum. Volume 138, 2008, p. 30
  8. ^ Theodosius Dobzhansky: On species and races of living and fossil man. In: American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Volume 2, No. 3, 1944, pp. 251-265, doi: 10.1002 / ajpa.1330020303
  9. ^ A b Ernst Mayr : Taxonomic categories in fossil hominids. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology 15, 1950, pp. 109-118; Excerpt . Reprinted in: W. Eric Meikle, Sue Taylor Parker: Naming our Ancestors. An Anthology of Hominid Taxonomy. Waveland Press, Prospect Heights (Illinois) 1994, ISBN 0-88133-799-4 , pp. 152-170.
  10. Gary J. Sawyer, Viktor Deak: The Long Way to Man. Life pictures from 7 million years of evolution. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2008, pp. 117 and 119
  11. Gary J. Sawyer and Viktor Deak, The Long Road to Humans, p. 121
  12. Michael Herbert Day and Theya I. Molleson: The Trinil femora. In: MH Day (Ed.): Human Evolution. Symposia of the Society for the Study of Human Biology. Volume 11, Taylor & Francis, London 1973, pp. 127-154.
  13. ^ W. Eric Meikle and Sue Taylor Parker (eds.): Naming our Ancestors. An Anthology of Hominid Taxonomy. Waveland Press, Prospect Heights (Illinois) 1994, p. 36, ISBN 0-88133-799-4
  14. ^ Andy IR Herries et al .: Contemporaneity of Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and early Homo erectus in South Africa. In: Science. Volume 368, No. 6486, eaaw7293, doi: 10.1126 / science.aaw7293 .
    Our direct human ancestor Homo erectus is older than we thought. On: eurekalert.org from April 2, 2020.
  15. In Grzimek's animal life , Homo erectus is referred to as "early man"; see the “Systematic Overview” ibid. , Volume 11 (= mammals 2), dtv, 1979, p. 508. The genus Australopithecus is described here as the “genus Vormensch”.
  16. a b Yan Rizal et al .: Last appearance of Homo erectus at Ngandong, Java, 117,000-108,000 years ago. In: Nature . Volume 577, 2020, pp. 381-385, doi: 10.1038 / s41586-019-1863-2 .
    Researchers determine age for last known settlement by a direct ancestor to modern humans. On: eurekalert.org from December 18, 2019.
  17. Chad D. Huff et al .: Mobile elements reveal small population size in the ancient ancestors of Homo sapiens. In: PNAS . Volume 107, No. 5, 2010, pp. 2147-2152, doi: 10.1073 / pnas.0909000107 . It should be noted in this study that the effective population size is always smaller than the number of individuals.
  18. a b David Lordkipanidze et al .: A Complete Skull from Dmanisi, Georgia, and the Evolutionary Biology of Early Homo. In: Science . Volume 342, No. 6156, 2013, pp. 126-131, doi: 10.1126 / science.1238484
  19. ^ WFF Oppennoorth: Homo (Javanthropus) soloensis: een plistocene Mensch van Java. In: Wetenschappelijke medeligen Dienst van den Mijnbrouw in Nederlandsch-Indië. Volume 20, 1932, p. 49 ff.
  20. Winfried Henke , Hartmut Rothe : Stammesgeschichte des Menschen. Springer Verlag, 1999, p. 199
  21. Ann Gibbons: Human Ancestor Caught in the Midst of a Makeover. In: Science . Volume 328, No. 5977, 2010, p. 413, doi: 10.1126 / science.328.5977.413
  22. Carol V. Ward et al .: Associated ilium and femur from Koobi Fora, Kenya, and postcranial diversity in early Homo. In: Journal of Human Evolution. Volume 81, 2015, pp. 48-67, doi: 10.1016 / j.jhevol.2015.01.005
  23. ^ Robert G. Franciscus, Steven E. Churchill: The costal skeleton of Shanidar 3 and a reappraisal of Neandertal thoracic morphology. In: Journal of Human Evolution. Volume 42, 2002, pp. 303-356, doi: 10.1006 / jhev.2001.0528
  24. Friedemann Schrenk : The early days of man. The way to Homo sapiens. CH Beck, 5th, completely revised and expanded edition, Munich 2008, p. 93 ( CH Beck Wissen ), ISBN 978-3-406-57703-1
  25. David Lordkipanidze et al .: Postcranial evidence from early Homo from Dmanisi, Georgia. In: Nature. Volume 449, 2007, pp. 305-310; doi: 10.1038 / nature06134
  26. Thorolf Hardt, Bernd Herkner and Ulrike Menz: Safari to the primitive man. Schweizerbart'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Stuttgart 2009, p. 122, ISBN 978-3-510-61395-3
  27. ^ Russell L. Ciochon , E. Arthur Bettis III: Asian Homo erectus converges in time. In: Nature. Volume 458, 2009, pp. 153-154, doi: 10.1038 / 458153a
  28. Gary J. Sawyer, Viktor Deak, p. 85 ( H. habilis ), p. 79 ( H. rudolfensis ), p. 115 and 124 ( H. erectus )
  29. ^ Scott W. Simpson et al .: A Female Homo erectus Pelvis from Gona , Ethiopia. In: Science. Volume 322, No. 5904, 2008, pp. 1089-1092, doi: 10.1126 / science.1163592
  30. Hélène Coqueugniot et al .: Early brain growth in Homo erectus and implications for cognitive ability. In: Nature. Volume 431, 2004, pp. 299-302, doi: 10.1038 / nature02852
  31. ^ "The Ileret prints show that by 1.5 Ma, hominins had evolved an essentially modern human foot function and style of bipedal locomotion." Matthew R. Bennett et al .: Early Hominin Foot Morphology Based on 1.5-Million-Year-Old Footprints from Ileret, Kenya. In: Science. Volume 323, 2009, pp. 1197-1201; doi: 10.1126 / science.1168132
  32. Jack Harris, Rutgers University , co-author of the publication on the Ileret footprints, quoted in: Robert Adler: Fossil footprints reveal modern walk. In: New Scientist of March 7, 2009, p. 10 and online version of February 26, 2009
  33. Homo erectus walked like us. On: mpg.de from July 12, 2016
    Kevin G. Hatala et al .: Footprints reveal direct evidence of group behavior and locomotion in Homo erectus. In. Scientific Reports. Volume 6, Article No. 28766, 2016, doi: 10.1038 / srep28766
  34. Jan Dönges: How humans came to their unique throwing talent. Spektrum.de from June 27, 2013 (with video), accessed on August 2, 2013.
  35. Martin Vieweg: A literally great achievement. On: Wissenschaft.de from June 26, 2013, accessed on September 8, 2019
  36. ^ Neil T. Roach, Madhusudhan Venkadesan, Michael J. Rainbow & Daniel E. Lieberman: Elastic energy storage in the shoulder and the evolution of high-speed throwing in Homo. In: Nature. Volume 498, 2013, pp. 483-486, doi: 10.1038 / nature12267
  37. ^ John Kappelman et al .: First Homo erectus from Turkey and implications for migrations into temperate Eurasia. In: American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Volume 135, 2008, pp. 110–116, doi: 10.1002 / ajpa.20739
    “Oldest evidence of tuberculosis in humans?” On: idw-online.de of April 23, 2012
  38. Peter S. Ungar et al .: Dental microwear and diets of African early Homo. In: Journal of Human Evolution. Volume 50, 2006, pp. 78-95, doi: 0.1016 / j.jhevol.2005.08.007 ; see: abc.net.au : Homo erectus ate crunchy food.
  39. James F. O'Connell, Kristen Hawkes, Karen Lupo, NG Blurton Jones: Male strategies and Plio-Pleistocene archeology. In: Journal of Human Evolution. Volume 43, 2002, pp. 831–872, doi: 10.1006 / jhev.2002.0604 , full text (PDF; 929 kB) ( Memento from July 8, 2014 in the Internet Archive ); cf. on this "Women provided nourishment" : considerations on the diet of Homo erectus
  40. ^ Etchings on a 500,000-year-old shell appear to have been made by human ancestor. On: sciencemag.org of December 3, 2014.
  41. Josephine CA Joordens et al .: Homo erectus at Trinil on Java used shells for tool production and engraving. In: Nature. Volume 518, No. 7538, 2015, pp. 228-231, doi: 10.1038 / nature13962
  42. ^ Martin Hora et al .: Dehydration and persistence hunting in Homo erectus. In: Journal of Human Evolution. Volume 138, 2020, 102682, doi: 10.1016 / j.jhevol.2019.102682 .
  43. Hansell H. Stedman et al .: Myosin gene mutation correlates with anatomical changes in the human lineage. In: Nature. Volume 428, 2004, pp. 415-418, doi: 10.1038 / nature02358
  44. Katherine D. Zink and Daniel E. Lieberman: Impact of meat and Lower Palaeolithic food processing techniques on chewing in humans. In: Nature. Volume 531, 2016, pp. 500–503, doi: 10.1038 / nature16990
  45. Christopher J. Lepre et al .: An earlier origin for the Acheulian. In: Nature . Volume 477, 2011, pp. 82-85, doi: 10.1038 / nature10372
  46. Yonas Beyene et al .: The characteristics and chronology of the earliest Acheulean at Konso, Ethiopia. In: PNAS . Volume 110, No. 5, 2013, pp. 1584–1591, doi: 10.1073 / pnas.1221285110
  47. Sileshi Semaw et al .: Co-occurrence of Acheulian and Oldowan artifacts with Homo erectus cranial fossils from Gona, Afar, Ethiopia. In: Science Advances. Volume 6, No. 10, 2020, eaaw4694, doi: 10.1126 / sciadv.aaw4694 .
    Homo erectus uses two different kinds of stone tools. On: newscientist.com on March 5, 2020.
  48. Shanti Pappu et al .: Early Pleistocene Presence of Acheulian Hominins in South India. In: Science. Volume 331, No. 6024, 2011, pp. 1596-1599, doi: 10.1126 / science.1200183
  49. Robin Dennell : An Earlier Acheulian Arrival in South Asia. In: Science. Volume 331, No. 6024, 2011, pp. 1532-1533, doi: 10.1126 / science.1203806
  50. ^ Paleolithic Archaeological Sites in the Cagayan Valley. , accessed on August 3, 2013: Description of the finds on Luzon on the UNESCO website
  51. ^ Hou Yamei: Mid-Pleistocene Acheulean-like Stone Technology of the Bose Basin, South China. In: Science. Volume 287, 2000, pp. 1622–1626, doi: 10.1126 / science.287.5458.1622 , short version (in English) ( Memento of February 13, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  52. GJ Sawyer, Viktor Deak: The long way to people , p. 118
  53. ^ Eudald Carbonell et al .: The first hominin of Europe. In: Nature. Volume 452, 2008, pp. 465-469, doi: 10.1038 / nature06815
  54. ^ Alan Walker , Michael R. Zimmerman and Richard Leakey : A possible case of hypervitaminosis A in Homo erectus. In: Nature. Volume 296, 1982, pp. 248-250, doi: 10.1038 / 296248a0
  55. F. Berna, P. Goldberg, LK Horwitz, J. Brink, S. Holt, M. Bamford, M. Chazan: Microstratigraphic evidence of in situ fire in the Acheulean strata of Wonderwerk Cave, Northern Cape province, South Africa . In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . 109, No. 20, 2012, ISSN  0027-8424 , pp. E1215-E1220. doi : 10.1073 / pnas.1117620109 .
  56. A million year old traces of fire: Homo erectus played with fire . In: Spiegel Online . April 3, 2012.
  57. Naama Goren-Inbar et al .: Evidence of Hominin Control of Fire at Gesher Benot Ya`aqov, Israel. In: Science. Volume 304, 2004, pp. 725-727, doi: 10.1126 / science.1095443
  58. ^ Wil Roebroeks , Paola Villa: On the earliest evidence for habitual use of fire in Europe. In: PNAS. Volume 108, No. 13, 2011, pp. 5209-5214, doi: 10.1073 / pnas.1018116108
  59. Winfried Henke, Hartmut Rothe: Stammesgeschichte des Menschen, p. 205
  60. ^ Richard Potts et al .: Small Mid-Pleistocene Hominin Associated with East African Acheulean Technology. In: Science. Volume 305, 2004, pp. 75-78, doi: 10.1126 / science.1097661
  61. Berhane Asfaw et al .: Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia. In: Nature. Volume 416, 2002, pp. 317-320, doi: 10.1038 / 416317a . Compare to. Homo erectus: Worldwide ancestor of man. On: orf.at , 2002
  62. ^ Karen L. Baab: The taxonomic implications of cranial shape variation in Homo erectus. In: Journal of Human Evolution. Volume 54, No. 6, 2008, pp. 827–847, doi: 10.1016 / j.jhevol.2007.11.003 , full text (PDF; 993 kB)
  63. a b Jeffrey H. Schwartz : Getting to Know Homo erectus. In: Science , Volume 305, 2004, pp. 53-54; doi: 10.1126 / science.1099989
  64. ^ Bernard Wood : Origin and evolution of the genus Homo. In: Nature. Volume 355, 1992, pp. 783-790, doi: 10.1038 / 355783a0 ; see also: Bernard Wood: Early hominid species and speciation. In: Journal of Human Evolution , Volume 22, No. 4-5, 1992, pp. 351-365, doi: 10.1016 / 0047-2484 (92) 90065-H
  65. ↑ Lower jaw KNM-ER 992, illustration ( Memento from November 6, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  66. Matthew Bennett, Bournemouth University, lead author of the publication on the Ileret footprints, cited in: Robert Adler: Fossil footprints reveal modern walk. In: New Scientist of March 7, 2009, p. 10 and online version of February 26, 2009
  67. Fred Spoor et al .: Implications of new early Homo fossils from Ileret, east of Lake Turkana, Kenya. In: Nature . Volume 448, 2007, pp. 688-691; doi: 10.1038 / nature05986
    cf. “Fossils make the human family tree shake.” - Report on spiegel.de from August 9, 2007
  68. Robin Dennell, Wil Roebroeks: An Asian perspective on early human dispersal from Africa. In: Nature. Volume 438, 2005, pp. 1099-1104, doi: 10.1038 / nature04259
  69. herc.berkeley.edu Mask for querying the important fossils of Homo heidelbergensis
  70. ^ Bernard Wood: The origin of Homo erectus. In: Cour. Research Inst. Senckenberg. Volume 69, 1984, pp. 99-111.
  71. ^ Robert Foley: People before Homo sapiens. How and why our kind prevailed. Jan Thorbecke Verlag, 2000, p. 153.
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  74. Peter Andrews : An alternative interpretation of the characters used to define Homo erectus. In: Cour. Research Inst. Senckenberg. Volume 69, 1984, pp. 167-175
  75. Jeffrey H. Schwartz and Ian Tattersall : Fossil evidence for the origin of Homo sapiens. In: American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Volume 143, Supplement 51 (= Yearbook of Physical Anthropology ), 2010, pp. 94-121 (here p. 99), doi: 10.1002 / ajpa.21443
  76. ^ G. Philip Rightmire: Cranial remains of Homo erectus from Beds II and IV, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. In: American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Volume 51, No. 1, 1979, pp. 99-115, doi: 10.1002 / ajpa.1330510113
  77. ^ Ernesto Abbate et al .: A one-million-year-old Homo cranium from the Danakil (Afar) Depression of Eritrea. In: Nature. Volume 393, 1998, pp. 458-460, doi: 10.1038 / 30954
    The skull from the hellhole of creation. On: welt.de from May 26, 2008
  78. Berhane Asfaw, W. Henry Gilbert, Yonas Beyene et al .: Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia. In: Nature. Volume 416, 2002, pp. 317-320, doi: 10.1038 / 416317a
    Daka Homo erectus. Image on leakeyfoundation.org August 15, 2014
  79. ^ Ian Tattersall: Masters of the Planet. The Search for Our Human Origins. Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2012, p. 130, ISBN 978-0-230-10875-2
  80. Jeffrey H. Schwartz and Ian Tattersall: Fossil evidence for the origin of Homo sapiens , p. 100