Homo Erectus - Homo erectus lived from an estimated 2,000,000 down to 100,000 years ago
Homo erectus lived from an estimated 2,000,000 down to 100,000 years ago. Java and Peking man are included
among Homo erectus.
Locations: Europe, India, China, Southeastern Asia, and Africa. Height: 5 feet 2 inches to 6 feet; Weight: 100 to
150 pounds. Fossils: Jaws, teeth, and an occasional skull cap and thighbone have been uncovered. In 1984, a well-
preserved almost complete erectus was discovered in Kenya. Remarkably similar erectus bones and tools have surfaced
in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Brain Capacity: Donald Johanson says 850 cubic centimeters to 900 c.c. Richard Leakey claims 900 c.c. to 1100 c.c..
compared to 350 - 400 c.c. for australopithecines, 650 c.c. for Homo habilis and 1400 c.c for humans. It is thought that
erectus' brain weighed around seven ounces at birth. It would mature at thirty-two ounces compared to forty-five ounces
for n adult human.
Johanson describes Homo erectus as "tall, thin, and barrel-chested." Their weight and height would place them in the
top 17 percent of modern human males. Based on reconstructed skeleton of a twelve-year-old male, Johanson believes
erectus had a body shaped like many African groups today. But there were differences.
Their bones were considerably heavier and more massive than those of modern man. And their facial features included
low sloping foreheads and heavy curved brow ridges. Like the australopithecines, erectus displays noticeably large
thigh bones and a small pelvis.
Those qualities combined to make this species more athletic than we are today. They were designed for mobility.
Walking and running came naturally for them; however, such dexterity came at a price. Erectus' narrow pelvis severely
limited the size of its brain at birth. And the brain remained proportionally smaller than sapiens'.
In contrast to Johanson's view, Richard Leakey believes Homo erectus was a little stockier than the average human
The head and face were "primitive" with the forehead sloping backwards and prominent brow ridges. His face protrudes
less than Homo habilis, but hot as flat as Homo sapiens. The chin was present but poorly developed.
Erectus made and used tools. Large potato-shaped hand axes, along with picks, and long-edged cleavers are the
basic utensils of Old Stone Age technology, otherwise known as the Acheulian tool industry. These stone tools were
probably used for chopping, cutting, piercing, and pounding meat. Meat was evidently an important part of erectus' diet.
We find evidence that they were using their hand axes for cutting and carving wood and meat. Richard Leakey tells us
that twenty thousand stone tools have been found associated with erectus. That's a lot of tools. But hunting weapons are
not among them. No spear, dart, or arrowhead has surfaced. How they got their meat remains a mystery. Possibly they
The Acheulian technology was a stagnate technology. It didn't improve over time. It didn't even adapt to local conditions.
Incredibly enough, we find the same hand axes, picks, and cleavers in Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Leakey believes their tool craft may have actually declined, during the erectus period. He comments, "Some of the later
examples of the technology appear simple and crude compared with some earlier material."
From Africa and China, we find solid evidence that erectus was using fire. Whether they could make it is still questionable.
One million years ago at Swartkran, erectus was probably cooking food and/or using fire to keep predators away.
At Zhoukoudian, a Peking site in China around 500,000 years ago, a series of ash layers leads anthropologists to believe
erectus was responsible for these ancient hearths.
Did Homo erectus talk? Probably not, concludes anthropologist Ann MacLarnon. There's a major difference between
erectus and sapiens in the thoracic region. The vertebral canal in Homo sapiens is twice as wide as it is in erectus.
In this respect, Homo erectus is physically closer to an ape than it is to modern humans. And that is a distinction of
According to Ms. MacLarnon, erectus probably lacked the number of cell bodies which we have in our spinal chord.
That means erectus had less muscle control in his rib section. Those muscles along with their supporting nerves control
breathing. Finely controlled breathing is an essential requirement for speech. Apparently, erectus could not talk.
Apart from this anatomical evidence, we have another common sense reason for doubting erectus' ability to speak. If they
were discussing and comparing their stone techniques, that should be enough to spark an occasional improvement over
a million years or so. But we don't find any.
In many ways erectus seems almost like us. But something is missing. The cultural traits of language, funerary rites,
and art are all absent. And as Johanson points out, "There is the troubling matter of a tool industry that didn't change for
a million years. That's a long, long time without improvement. Contrast that to the accomplishments humans have made
in the last two hundred years.
Where should we place Homo erectus in the scheme of things? The experts disagree. The same argument that arose
earlier with Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis surfaces again with Homo erectus. Paleontologists question
whether erectus is one or more species. Those early fossils from Africa may need to be reclassified in a separate
category from the later ones from Asia. Others believe erectus is an early form of sapiens. They say he is human.