Homo heidelbergensis

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Homo heidelbergensis
Temporal range: Pleistocene
Artistic reconstruction
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Homo
Binomial name
Homo heidelbergensis
Schoetensack, 1908
Homo heidelbergensis cranium
Copy of the jawbone found in 1907
One of hundreds of handaxes found at Boxgrove

Homo heidelbergensis ("Heidelberg Man") is the name given to a number of human fossil remains earlier than those of Neanderthals.

It is an open question whether these remains are a distinct species. They are fragments, most of which cannot be dated exactly. In the older texts they were simply called archaic humans or "early Homo sapiens".[1][2][3] This term may be used for findings between the relatively well-defined remains of Homo erectus in Africa,[4] and the later well-defined remains of Homo neanderthalensis in Europe. Some authors use it for all early species of Homo, including Neanderthals.

The name Homo heidelbergensis was given to a finding of a lower jaw, and little else.[5] It may be the direct ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Homo sapiens.[6] The remains were found in Mauer near Heidelberg, Germany in 1907.

Later finds in Arago, France and Petralona, Greece were attributed to this species. The best evidence found for these hominins date between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago. H. heidelbergensis stone tool technology was very close to that of the Acheulean tools used by Homo erectus. Some experts believe that Rhodesian Man, found in Africa, belongs to the group Homo heidelbergensis.

Interpretations[change | change source]

H. antecessor and H. heidelbergensis may have descended from the morphologically very similar Homo ergaster from Africa. Because H. heidelbergensis had a larger brain-case — with a typical cranial volume of 1100–1400 cm³ overlapping the 1350 cm³ average of modern humans — and had more advanced tools and behavior, it has been given a separate species classification. The species was tall, 1.8 m (6.0 ft) on average, and more muscular than modern humans.

They were good hunters[change | change source]

Cut marks on wild deer, elephants, rhinos and horses demonstrate that they were butchered. Some of the animals weighed as much as 700 kg (1,500 lb) or more. During this era, now-extinct wild animals such as mammoths, European lions and Irish elk lived on the European continent.

They may have buried their dead[change | change source]

Recent findings in Atapuerca suggest that H. heidelbergensis may have been the first species of the Homo genus to bury their dead. This is however still discussed among scientists. Some experts believe that H. heidelbergensis, like its descendant H. neanderthalensis, learned a primitive form of language. No forms of art or sophisticated artifacts other than stone tools have been uncovered, although red ochre, a mineral that can be used to create a red pigment which is useful as a paint, has been found at Terra Amata excavations in the south of France.

Modern finds[change | change source]

Boxgrove Man[change | change source]

In 1994 British scientists unearthed a lower hominin tibia bone just a few miles away from the English Channel, with hundreds of ancient hand axes, at the Boxgrove Quarry site.[7] A partial leg bone is dated to between 478,000 and 524,000 years old.

The discoverers attributed the finds to H. heidelbergensis, but this attribution is not secure. It could equally be early H. neanderthalensis. Before a discovery at Gran Dolina, Boxgrove was the earliest hominin remains in Europe.

The tibia had been gnawed by a large carnivore, suggesting that he had been killed by a lion or wolf or that his unburied corpse had been scavenged after death.[8]

Sima de los Huesos[change | change source]

Beginning in 1992, a Spanish team has located more than 5,500 human bones dated to an age of at least 350,000 years in the Sima de los Huesos site in the Sierra de Atapuerca in northern Spain. The pit contains fossils of perhaps 28 individuals together with remains of Ursus deningeri and other carnivores and a biface called Excalibur. It is hypothesized that this Acheulean axe made of red quartzite was some kind of ritual offering for a funeral. Ninety percent of the known H. heidelbergensis remains have been obtained from this site. The fossil pit bones include:

  • A complete cranium (skull 5), nicknamed Miguelón, and fragments of other crania, such as skull 4, nicknamed Agamenón and skull 6, nicknamed Rui (from El Cid, a local hero).
  • A complete pelvis (pelvis 1), nicknamed Elvis, in remembrance of Elvis Presley.
  • Mandibles, teeth, and many postcranial bones (femurs, hand and foot bones, vertebrae, ribs, etc.)

Indeed, nearby sites contain the only known and controversial Homo antecessor fossils.

Suffolk, England[change | change source]

In 2005 flint tools and teeth from the water vole Mimomys savini, a key dating species, were found in the cliffs at Pakefield near Lowestoft in Suffolk. This suggests that hominins can be dated in England to 700,000 years ago, potentially a cross between Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis.[9][10][11][12][13]

References[change | change source]

  1. 'Archaic' means 'very early'.
  2. Stringer, Chriss 1992. Evolution of early humans. In Jones S; Martin R. & Pilbeam D. (eds) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of human evolution. Cambridge University Press, especially p245. ISBN 0-521-46786-1
  3. Klein, Richard 2009. Evolution of the genus Homo. In The human career: human biological and cultural origins. 3rd ed, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-43965-5
  4. Klein, 2nd ed. Table 5.1 African sites with fossils of Homo ergaster (African H. erectus); and table 5.2 African sites with fossils of early Homo sapiens.
  5. Mounier A; Marchal F. and Condemi S. 2009. Is Homo heidelbergensis a distinct species? New insight on the Mauer mandible. Journal of Human Evolution. 56, 219-246 [1]
  6. Rightmire G.P. (1998). "Human Evolution in the Middle Pleistocene: the role of Homo heidelbergensis". Evolutionary Anthropology 6 (6): 218–227. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6505(1998)6:6<218::AID-EVAN4>3.0.CO;2-6. http://www.archeo.uw.edu.pl/zalaczniki/upload23.pdf.
  7. Pitts M & Roberts M. 1997. Fairweather Eden: life in Britain half a million years ago as revealed by the excavations at Boxgrove. Century, London. ISBN 0-7126-7686-4
  8. Dargie R. 2007. A history of Britain. 8-9
  9. Parfitt S. et al 2005. 'The earliest record of human activity in northern Europe'. Nature''' 438 1008-1012.
  10. Roebroeks W. 2005. Archaeology: life on the Costa del Cromer. Nature 438 921-922.
  11. Parfitt S. et al 2006. '700,000 years old: found in Pakefield', British Archaeology. Retrieved 2008-12-24.
  12. Good C. & Plouviez J. 2007. The Archaeology of the Suffolk Coast Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service [online]. Retrieved 2009-11-28.
  13. Tools unlock secrets of early man, BBC news website, 2005-12-14. Retrieved 2011-04-15.