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Origins of Humankind
The Hominid Family Tree

Orrorin tugenensis
(6 mya)

Ardipithecus ramidus
(4.4 mya)

Australipithecus anamensis
(4.2 to 3.9 mya)

Australipithecus afarensis
(3.6 to 2.9 mya)

Kenyanthropus platyops
(3.5 to 3.3 mya)

Australipithecus africanus
(3 to 2 mya)

Australipithecus aethiopicus
(2.7 to 2.3 mya)

Australipithecus garhi
(2.5 mya)

Australipithecus boisei
(2.3 to 1.4 mya)

Homo habilis
(2.3 to 1.6 mya)

Homo erectus
(1.8 to 0.3 mya)

Australipithecus robustus
(1.8 to 1.5 mya)

Homo heidelbergensis
(600 to 100 tya)

Homo neanderthalensis
(250 to 30 tya)

Homo sapiens
(100 tya to present)

mya = millions of years ago        tya = thousands of years ago


Homo erectus (1.8 to 0.3 million years ago)

Species Description:

Homo erectus, unlike H. habilis and all of the Australopithecus species, ranged far beyond Africa. Some scientists have split H. erectus into three separate species, based on the geographic region in which specimens have been found: H. ergaster (Africa), H. erectus (Asia), and H. heidelbergensis (Europe). Homo heidelbergensis specimens are also sometimes classified as archaic H. sapiens.

Generally, H. erectus (inclusive) is characterized by large molars, an unpronounced chin, heavy brow ridges, and a long, low skull, relative to modern Homo sapiens. The skeleton of H. erectus was heavier, or "more robust," than the average modern human skeleton. Body proportions vary greatly from individual to individual. "Turkana Boy" was tall and slender, like modern humans from the same area, while the few limb bones found of "Peking Man" indicate a shorter, sturdier build.

Fossil Finds:

Dmanisi 2282
Estimated age: 1.7 million years
Date of discovery: 1999
Location: Republic of Georgia

This lower mandible probably belonged to a young adult female. It shows the smaller molars and reduced jaw size (relative to earlier hominids) characteristic of H. erectus. This specimen was found close to a partial skull, giving scientists a direct comparison of two individuals.

Turkana Boy
Estimated age: 1.6 million years
Date of discovery: 1984
Location: Lake Turkana, Kenya

This nearly complete skeleton of a 9- to 12-year-old boy is one of the oldest-known specimens of H. erectus. The boy -- about 5 feet 3 inches tall when he died -- may have grown to be about 6 feet 1 inch as an adult.

Java Man

Java Man
Estimated age: 700,000 years
Date of discovery: 1891
Location: Java, Indonesia

The presence of a cranium and other H. erectus specimens on the island of Java indicates that the species lived in Asia as many as 1.6 million years ago. Whether H. erectus moved from Africa into Asia or vice versa is unknown.

Peking Man
Estimated age: 500,000 to 300,000 years
Date of discovery: 1929 to present
Location: Zhoukoudian, China

The name "Peking Man" is first used to describe a skull found at this site in 1929. Subsequent finds reveal a total of about 40 individuals. Other fossils include 14 partial crania, 11 lower jaws, many teeth, and some skeletal bones.

Petralona 1 (debated)
Estimated age: 500,000 to 250,000 years
Date of discovery: 1969
Location: Petralona, Greece

This specimen is classified by some scientists as Homo heidelbergensis or Homo neanderthalensis, due to its strange mixture of traits. The brain size is 1220 cc -- large for H. erectus, but small for H. sapiens -- and the face is large, with a particularly wide upper mandible.

Tautavel Man (debated)
Estimated age: 400,000 years
Date of discovery: 1971
Location: Arago, France

This skull shows a mixture of features of Homo erectus and H. heidelbergensis, to which it is sometimes assigned. It consists of a fairly complete face, with five molars and part of the brain case.

Evidence of Culture:

Acheulean stone tools (debated)
Estimated age: 500,000 years
Location: Briqueterie, France

Double-sided, teardrop-shaped tools, like this Lanceolate hand ax, had sharp edges and were sharp enough to slice through tough animal hides. Whether or not these tools were made by Homo erectus is debated.

Earliest use of fire (debated)
Estimated age: 500,000 years
Location: Throughout Africa, Europe, and western Asia

Homo erectus was likely the first hominid to use fire. Clear evidence of the controlled use of fire, however, is very difficult to confirm in archaeological digs, so the practice's origin among hominids may never be known.

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