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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 heidelbergensis (600,000 to 100,000 years ago)

Species Description:

The skulls of this species share features with both Homo erectus and anatomically modern Homo sapiens. The archaic H. heidelbergensis brain was larger than H. erectus and smaller than most modern humans, and the skull is more rounded than in H. erectus. The skeleton and teeth are usually smaller than in H. erectus, but larger than in modern humans. Many still have large brow ridges and receding foreheads and chins. There is no clear dividing line between late H. erectus and H. heidelbergensis, so many fossils between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago are difficult to classify as one or the other.

Fossil Finds:

Mauer mandible
Estimated age: 700,000 to 400,000 years
Date of discovery: 1907
Location: Heidelberg, Germany

Discovered by gravel pit workers, this find consists of a lower jaw with a nearly complete set of teeth. The jaw is extremely large and heavy-boned, like that of Homo erectus, but the teeth are too small for that species.

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

This is a difficult fossil to classify, given its mixture of traits. The skull is classified by some scientists as late Homo erectus and by others as Homo neanderthalensis. 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 H. heidelbergensis and Homo erectus, to which it is sometimes assigned. It consists of a fairly complete face, with five molars and part of the brain case.

Kabwe Man
Estimated age: 200,000 to 125,000 years
Date of discovery: 1921
Location: Kabwe, Zambia

This complete cranium was very heavy-boned, with large brow ridges and a receding forehead. The brain size, however, was equal to that of modern humans.

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 heidelbergensis is debated.

Mousterian stone tools (debated)
Estimated age: 200,000 years
Location: Europe and the Middle East

These tools, found in Europe, are most often associated with Neanderthals, but elsewhere were made by H. heidelbergensis.

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

Homo heidelbergensis almost certainly used fire. Clear evidence of the controlled use of fire, however, is very difficult to establish at archaeological sites, so the origin of this practice among hominids may never be known.

-> Go to Homo neanderthalensis

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