What is Homo Erectus ?
Homo erectus is the scientific name of a species of the genus Homo, that is, a hominid, belonging to the evolutionary steps prior to humanity as we know it ( homo sapiens ).
His name: Homo erectus means in Latin “erect man,” that is, “standing man,” although he was initially baptized as Pithecanthropus erectus , which means “standing ape-man.” These names are due to the fact that it was the most primitive human fossil with the lowest cranial capacity discovered in the late nineteenth century (1891), so it was assumed that it would be the first fully biped human species.
Extinct already, Homo erectus emerged about 2 million years ago and disappeared approximately 143,000 – 50,000 years ago, depending on the subspecies.
Origin of Homo erectus
The Homo erectus appeared in Africa and was the first species to be similar to those of actual physical human body proportions , with indicators of life adapted to the ground and trees. Then it would have spread throughout Europe and especially Asia, where its largest fossil deposits would be found.
Often, the African members of the species were called Homo ergaster , since by Homo erectus it is usually called more specifically the Asian members of the species. However, today it is assumed that it was a species with a lot of variability depending on its habitat.
Characteristics of Homo erectus
The Homo erectus already has the configuration of the body needed to walk up away from the simian and approaching the actual human being. It is assumed that it could even run long distances. All this seems to suggest that it is the direct predecessor of contemporary Homo sapiens .
The erectus also had a cranial capacity of 940 ml, halfway between the gorilla (600ml) and modern humans (1200-1500ml). His brain was in a low and angular cranial vault that was modified throughout its evolution and allowed the emergence of individuals with greater cranial capacity (up to 1100ml) as the species changed. This positions it above Homo habilis and Homo georgicus .
In addition, it had a strong jaw and no chin, with small teeth, as well as a robust body that could reach 1.80 meters high and had a marked sexual dimorphism, even greater than in the case of Homo sapiens .
Homo erectus feeding
It is thought that this species was a huntress and scavenger , given the lithic technology (stone tools) it developed. Something that, in addition, could go hand in hand with the suspicion that Homo erectus was the first hominid to know the fire and use it to cook his food .
The bones found have clear signs of hypervitaminosis, which suggests that they would have a diet rich in red meat.
Society of Homo erectus
The Homo erectus would have handled some lithic technology (stone) for the manufacture of weapons (axes, spears, knives) probably used in hunting large animals. These tools become less and less rudimentary as the species grows and diversifies.
Everything indicates that he lived in small groups of around 30 people, and that they had developed a certain level of exchange and socialization among tribes , probably for the exchange of information, goods and women and to avoid the genetic impoverishment of inbreeding.
These associations could even be more durable and serve to hunt a large animal among all, after which the spoils were distributed and dispersed again. Despite this, it is not likely that this species handled articulated language.
The name given to the first Homo erectus found was that of “Java man”, since it was found on the island of that same name, in Indonesia, in 1891. Its discoverer was the Dutch anatomist Eugène Dubois, who baptized him as Anthropopitecus erectus , name that he later changed to Pithecanthropus erectus .
Importance of Homo erectus
This species was the first inveterate traveler of the genus Homo who left Africa and spread throughout southern Europe and especially Asia. This allowed him to diversify greatly over the centuries, which is key in the history of human evolution.
It is often thought that Homo erectus is a good candidate to be the pre- Homo sapiens species , which would make him our evolutionary ancestor. This, however, seems contradicted by the findings on the Solo River, which seem to have lived 50,000 years ago, thus being contemporary with Homo sapiens .
Subspecies of Homo erectus
The subspecies known so far of Homo erectus are:
- Homo erectus erectus or Java man
- Homo erectus pekinensis or Peking Man
- Homo erectus soloensis or Solo Man
- Homo erectus lantianensis or Latian Man
- Homo erectus nankinensis or Man from Nanjing
- Homo erectus yuanmouensis or Man of Yuanmou
It is also suspected that other fossils registered as distinct species, are actually variants of the same Homo erectus , such as:
- Homo ( erectus ) ergaster
- Homo ( erectus ) palaeojavanicus or Meganthropus
- Homo ( erectus ) tautavelensis or Tautavel Man
Archaeological sites of Homo erectus
The main archaeological sites of this species are in Asia: China and Java. In China they are found in Zhoukodian, Jinniu Shan, Yiyuan, Yuanmou, Hexian, Chaoxian, Dali, Gonwanling, Yunxian, Maba and Bose Basin. In Java there are Modjokerto, Sangirán, Trinil and Ngandong.
Extinction of Homo erectus
The Homo erectus began his disappearance from the face of the earth about 70,000 years ago in the Pleistocene and medium and links it to the call Theory of Toba catastrophe, which assumes the eruption of a megavolcán on Lake Toba in Indonesia.
However, having the species so much variation throughout the world, it is estimated that many of the last species of Homo erectus may have survived until living with the first Homo sapiens .
The evolution of the human being is a diverse and complex process that involves numerous species of the genus Homo, all descendants of the first African bipedal apes also precursors of species such as the chimpanzee ( Pan troglodytes ), and ancestors and evolutionary relatives of the current human being ( Homo sapiens ).
This process began about 6 million years ago, with a common ancestor among anthropoid monkeys and the first hominids.