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Homo erectus

Photograph of a Homo erectus cranium at three-quarter view.

Homo erectus

AAC Catalogue Number: 2004.11.39

Dates: 1.9 – 0.5 million years ago

Geographic Range: Africa and Eurasia

Anatomical Features: 

  • Much larger brains and smaller teeth compared to australopithecines.
  • Shares some archaic traits with early hominis, including a receding forehead, no chin, and narrowing behind the brow ridges.
  • Shares some derived traits with modern humans, including a taller cranium and smaller jaws and teeth.
  • Postcranial skeleton much more similar to humans (long legs, wide pelvis, etc.)
  • Homo erectus may have been capable of long-distance running.
  • Males were 20-30% larger than females. This is less sexually dimorphic than earlier hominids but more so than humans.

Technology Used: Homo erectus likely used Mode II (Acheulean) hand axes as well as Mode I (Oldowan) tools. In the past, some scholars believed that Mode II tools were not found in East Asia. More recently, however, Mode II tools have been discovered in East Asia, albeit in lower quantities than in Africa and West Asia. 

Diet: Homo erectus likely ate a variety of foods including more meat than australopithecines. A female individual was found with vitamin A poisoning, which may be the result of eating animal livers. The evolutionary history of human tapeworm species also suggests that hominins began eating more meat around the time of Homo erectus.

Other Info: 

  • Some archaeologists speculated that East Asia could have been a center of origin for early humans given the finds at Zhoukoudian and other East Asian sites. However, most scholars now agree that humans evolved from Homo erectus in Africa and not Asia. 
  • The name ‘Homo ergaster’ is often used to refer to fossils found in Africa, whereas ‘Homo erectus’ is mainly used to refer to fossils found in Eurasia. They are morphologically very similar and may be the same species, but H. ergaster has more archaic features. 

Description from Bone Clones: 

300,000 to 600,000 YA. The Homo erectus skull Peking Man is also known as Pithecanthropus pekinensis (Sinanthropus). The reproduction offered here was recreated by Ian Tattersall and Gary J. Sawyer using original casts. In their reproduction, the gray areas clearly indicate the portions that were sculpted and which were based on original fragments. The dark colors represent the areas that were created using casts from original material. The reconstruction is a composite of several individuals, skull and mandible fragments and isolated teeth. Licensed exclusively to Bone Clones, we are grateful to Tattersall and Sawyer for permitting us to cast this remarkable piece.

Remaining Questions: 

  • What composed Homo erectus’ diet? How much meat did they eat, and were they hunters or scavengers?
  • Did Homo erectus use fire and cook their food?