Lecture 10: Early Homo, Homo erectus

Early Hominins

  • Australopiths and early Homo.
  • Diversity of species/ adaptive radiation: Have grassile, aferensis, robust and some homo species all living at the same time in the same types of environments. There are so many species because the groups weren't travelling far, thus interbreeding in small population. This causes genetic drift, and based on random factors, speciation begins. They climbed more and lived in the trees.
  • Brain size - From 3 - 1 million year ago there was a flat line when looking at encephalization.
  • Development in children - modern apes are shorter than modern humans. Australopiths had a longer childhood, as this was the trend for primates evolving into modern humans.
  • Timing - Later Australopiths and early Homo overlap for more than a million years, including Homo erectus, so they might have interbred.

Time and Place

  • 2.0+ - 1.4mya, Africa (Mostly east, some in the south)


Biological Remains

  • Greater encephalization
  • Altered cranial shape (Higher forehead, arched jaw, smaller and narrower teeth).


Early Homo Culture

  • The first group which had culture.
  • Types of tools and nature of behaviour.
  • Stone tools (Oldowan) back to 2.6 mya. Homo erectus will continue to use them.


0928 Oldowan tools

Oldowan choppers & flakes - Africa, Europe, West Asia

  • Tools made of bone, wood and fiber were used but not preserved.
  • Found animals bones with cut marks from stone tools 3.4 mya. This suggests Australopiths used them before early Homo.
  • Olduvai Gorge is a site in East Africa, covering the past 2 mya-present. Date geological sequences, paleontological, archeological (Oldowan) and hominin fossils found here by Mary and Louis.
  • This gives us information on hominin behaviour, diet and the climate at the time. They were hunters and scavengers and habitually bipedal.


1001a H erectus map

Homo Erectus

  • Including Homo ergaster.
  • The longest lived of any Homo species, since they were very stable, efficient and had strong adaptations.


Time and Place

  • 1.8/1.7 - 10,000ya (or even later)
  • Evolved in Africa and were the first hominins to leave Africa. Traveled further (to other parts of Africa, Europe, and East Asia where they dispersed rapidly throughout the old world). Not many new species evolved from them. They were mostly similar but had local differences.1001b H erectus map Asia

Biological Remains

  • Variation in time and space - Travelled far distances over a long period of time.
  • Body size - Considerable variations, average of 5'6in which was larger than early hominins. Sexually dimorphic. Increased robust bones than modern hunter/ gatherer populations. Looks like a human skeleton neck down.
  • Brain size - Larger than earlier Homo.
  • Cranium shape - Long and low skull, brow ridge, torus, sagittal keel (projection which runs down the middle of the skull), prognathic face, bigger teeth, little chin and the max breadth of skull is below the ears (Pentagonal - Only species which has this because of its massive neck muscles and body strength). Heavier and thicker skull, especially in Asia.1002 H erectus skullmorphology

Important Sites and Finds

  • Africa from 1.7mya (so far): ER 2733. Nariokotome skeleton, the most complete skeleton found at Lake Turkana. 1.6mya. Developed faster than humans, but had a lengthier childhood.
  • Dmanisi by 1.75mya. Oldowan tools
  • Java by about 1.6mya, also last very late
  • China by 1.1mya. Zhoukoudian at 0.8mya - Population, tools
  • Europe by 1.2mya. Sima del Elefante - Material similar to Dmanisi
  • Found an old man's skull which had no teeth left, which shows they cared for the old, they depended on him for wisdom, survival skills etc. to pass on to the next generation.

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Homo erectus Culture

Acheulian tools: Africa, Europe, West and South Asia

  • Stone Tools - Oldowan in Africa, Europe and West Asia, not in East and Southeast Asia where there are small tools. Oldowan was replaced by Acheuilan tools 1.6mya (hand axe, cleaver, hard to soft hammer technique which gives more control and results in finer objects, tool worked on both sides, more efficient tools which took planning and effort to make, showing communication and development to get specific designs) to west (start in Africa). East Asia: continue using choppers and flakes.
  • Food - More scavenger and collector than hunter, plants.
  • Fire - Occasional (not for cooking, maybe from a nearby forest fire). Evidence 1mya, South Africa.
  • Language - Endocast. Some form of communication might have existed to pass on knowledge.


1010 Zhou tools

Choppers & Flakes - East Asia (Zhoukoudian). Fig. 10.101016 stone tools w_ handaxes1014 handaxe


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