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Homo erectus

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Homo erectus
Temporal range: Pleistocene
Homo erectus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Homo
Binomial name
Homo erectus
(Dubois, 1892)

Pithecanthropus erectus
Sinanthropus pekinensis

Reconstruction of a specimen from Tautavel, France
hand axe from France
File:Craniums of Homo.svg
1. Gorilla 2. Australopithecus 3. Homo erectus 4. Neanderthal (La Chapelle aux Saints) 5. Steinheim Skull 6. Human

Homo erectus (Latin: "upright man") is an extinct species of the genus Homo.[1] Fossil remains were found in Java (1890s) and in China (1921). Nearly all of them were lost during World War II, but there are casts that are considered to be reliable evidence.

Early in the 20th century it was believed that the first modern humans lived in Asia. But during the 1950s and 1970s, many fossil finds from East Africa (Kenya) showed that the oldest hominins came from there.[2]

Some characteristics

H. erectus had a cranial capacity (brain size) greater than that the earlier Homo habilis. The earliest H. erectus remains have a cranial capacity of 850 cm³, while the latest Javan specimens measure up to 1100 cm³.[3] This overlaps that of H. sapiens: the frontal bone is less sloped and the dental arcade smaller than in australopithecines. The face is more vertical (less protrusive) than either the australopithecines or H. habilis, with large brow-ridges and less prominent cheekbones.

These early hominins stood about 1.79 m (5 ft 10 in),[4] Only 17 percent of modern male humans are taller.[5] They were slender, with long arms and legs.[6]

The sexual dimorphism between males and females was slightly greater than modern man, with males being about 25% larger than females. The discovery of the skeleton KNM-WT 15000, "Turkana boy" (Homo ergaster), made near Lake Turkana, Kenya by Richard Leakey and Kamoya Kimeu in 1984, is one of the most complete hominid-skeletons discovered, and has contributed greatly to the interpretation of human physiological evolution.


The most distinctive tool of erectus was the Acheulean hand axe, first invented 1.8 million years ago (mya). This hand axe was made by chipping a suitable stone with a hammer stone. Later, the neanderthals used a soft hammer made of deer antler bone to make better tools. The Acheulean hand axe lasted for over a million years as the main tool. Its main use was for butchering meat. This we know because different uses leave different micro-wear on the hand axe surfaces.[7][8]

Descendants and subspecies

Homo erectus remains one of the most successful and long-lived species of the Homo genus. It is generally considered to have given rise to a number of descendant species and subspecies. The oldest known specimen of the ancient human was found in southern Africa.

  • Homo erectus:

Homo ergaster, Homo erectus pekinensis,

  • Other related species:

Homo antecessor, Homo cepranensis, Homo floresiensis, Homo georgicus Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo sapiens,

Individual fossils

Some of the major Homo erectus fossils:

  • Indonesia (island of Java): Trinil 2 (holotype), Sangiran collection, Sambungmachan collection, Ngandong collection
  • China: Lantian (Gongwangling and Chenjiawo), Yunxian, Zhoukoudian, Nanjing, Hexian
  • India: Narmada (taxonomic status debated!)
  • Kenya: WT 15000 (Nariokotome), ER 3883, ER 3733
  • Tanzania: OH 9
  • Vietnam: Northern, Tham Khuyen, Hoa Binh
  • Republic of Georgia: Dmanisi collection
  • Turkey: Kocabas fossil[9]


  1. Dutch anatomist Eugene Dubois (1890s) first described it as Pithecanthropus erectus, based on a skullcap and a modern-looking thigh bone found from the bank of a river in Java. Most of the early discoveries were at Zhoukoudian in China.
  2. H. erectus may be a descendant of earlier hominins such as H. habilis. However, H. habilis and H. erectus may have lived at the same time and have come from a common ancestor. Spoor F. et al 2007. "Implications of new early Homo fossils from Ileret, east of Lake Turkana, Kenya". Nature (448): 688-691. doi:10.1038/nature05986 .
  3. Java Man, Curtis, Swisher and Lewin, ISBN 0-349-11473-0.
  4. Bryson, Bill (2005). A short history of nearly everything: special illustrated edition. Toronto: Doubleday Canada. ISBN 0-385-66198-3 .
  5. Khanna, Dev Raj (2004). Human Evolution. Discovery Publishing House. p. 195. ISBN 978-8171417759 . Retrieved 30 March 2013. "African H. erectus, with a mean stature of 170 cm, would be in the tallest 17 percent of modern populations, even if we make comparisons only with males"
  6. Roylance, Frank D. Roylance (6 February 1994). "A Kid Tall For His Age". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 30 March 2013. "Clearly this population of early people were tall, and fit. Their long bones were very strong. We believe their activity level was higher than we can imagine today. We can hardly find Olympic athletes with the stature of these people"
  7. Haten N. 2010. The reliability of microscopic use-wear analysis on Monterey chert tools. SCA Proceedings 24, 1-6. [1]
  8. Odell, George 1980. Verifying the reliability of lithic use-wear assessments by 'blind tests': the low-power approach. Journal of Field Archaeology 7 1-34. [2]
  9. Kappelman J. et al 2008. "First Homo erectus from Turkey and implications for migrations into temperate Eurasia". American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135 (1): 110-116. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20739 .

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