Homo Erectus

By Tim Lambert

About 1.8 million years ago a new species called Homo erectus appeared in East Africa. Later (about 1 million years ago) they spread to Asia. Some scientists believe that some specimens of Homo erectus actually belonged to a different species and should be called Homo Ergaster. At any rate, Homo erectus had a small brain size of about 800-900 ml, which is considerably smaller than modern humans but larger than Homo Habilis, an earlier species. A Homo erectus boy aged about 12 discovered in 1984 stood about 1.68 meters tall. Homo erectus were as tall as modern humans and they were powerfully built.

However, in some ways, they were different from us. They had smaller brains and they had low foreheads and very prominent ridges over their brows. Obviously, it is impossible to tell from a skeleton how hairy someone was. However, scientists believe Homo erectus had little body hair and controlled their body heat by sweating. We do not know if Homo erectus could speak. They probably communicated by using a mixture of simple sounds and gestures.

Homo erectus inhabited caves and they made stone tools such as hand axes and cleavers. They probably also made wooden tools but they have not survived. Scientists believe that in Asia Homo erectus used bamboo tools. There is a debate about when hominids first used fire. However, between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago there is evidence of hearths. Charred bones were found on them so it seems Homo erectus had learned to cook. Obviously, fire was also useful in cold weather and Homo erectus may have made tools by firelight after dark.

From about 500,000 onward a slightly different species called Home Heidelbergensis lived in Europe. At that time it was a very different place from today. Animals like elephants, lions, bears, and wolves lived there. Homo Heidelbergensis had a larger brain than Homo erectus and they hunted animals like horses and deer with spears. It is believed that Homo Heidelbergensis gave rise to the Neanderthals.

Last revised 2022

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