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The term Homo erectus was coined from literature to mean the “Upright man”. Homo erectus is thought to have lived at a period between 1.8 million and 50,000 years ago. According to the archaeological information and data, the Homo erectus is considered to be the ancestral member of the living species Homo sapiens. The only controversial information about this is the exact timing that the transformation took place and the mode of transformation that took place. The Homo erectus species got its name from an archaeologist known as Eugene Dubois in the year 1891 when he discovered their archaeological material. Dubois had originally named it Pithecanthropus erectus (Swisher, pp 142). He found the first fossil of this species, a skullcap in 1891. However, he did nit name it until the year 1894 when he came across a femur that was nearly just identical to that of the modern human. This femur was discovered not far from the site where the skullcap had been found. Both of these two specimens of this species were discovered in Trinil, Java. The skullcap was called “Trinil 2”. The femur was called “Trinil 3”. Together, they are commonly referred to as “Java Man”.
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In the year 1927, a new species fossil was discovered by an archaeologist known as Davidson Black. He Named his species Sinanthropus erectus which literary was a translation for the “Northern upright man”. He did this naming based on a fossil of a tooth that he found at Zhoukoudian, a place near Beijing, China. Later on, he went on further to discover 14 skullcaps, several limb bones and also a number of other teeth to support his discovery. As more and more of the Homo erectus were being discovered, paleoanthropologists started to see the similar features between Sinanthropus and the specimens in the genus Homo. In the end, the Sinanthropus was als considered a member of the species Homo erectus.
There has been very little change on the morphology of the Homo erectus during its 1.8 million years of known existence. In comparison to other species of the earlier Homo they had got smaller teeth, the face was much shorter and possessed a human like nose which projected out of the face. The numerous skulls that have overtime been unearthed show an interesting enlargement of the brain size in comparison to the earlier hominids. The body size of the Homo erectus also showed an increase with the males reaching close to 1.8 meters and females 1.55 meters. Their post cranial skeleton is similar to that of the modern man only that it appeared to be more robust and very heavily muscled (Leakey & Walker pp33).The teeth of the Homo erectus had got unique growing patterns compared to that of the modern human. The first molar eruption from the gums was witnessed over 3 years of age and it had a lifespan of 40 years. In the modern humans, this eruption took place after 5 years of age and lasted up to 66 years. The structure of the nose being one that projected out of the face played an important role in the species. It allowed for the condensation of the moisture that accompanied the air during exhalation. This was important for the species that had their habitat in the warm and arid areas. Another peculiar feature of the Homo erectus was the narrow spinal canal in the cervical and the thoracic vertebrae. This hole through which the spinal cord runs was smaller than that of the modern man (Brauer, pp 90). This indicated a smaller demand for the traffic of the nerve signals. On the vertebral column of the Homo erectus, the spines are longer than those of the modern human and they do not point back far as such. The thigh bone is unusually longer than that of the modern human. The pelvis of the Homo erectus gave a much smaller birth canal. This meant that eeven after birth, the mother would have had to continue foetal growth rate. Due to this, a more extensive childcare by the mother was almost unavoidable.
Certain significant behavioural features are peculiar to the Homo erectus compared to the earlier species like the Homo habilis. A common feature was the reduction in the size of the body of this species. Unlike the earlier species where the male body size almost doubled that of the female species, with the Homo erectus this ratio greatly dropped. The males were only about 20-30% larger in body size compared to the females. This somehow implied a reduction in the competition of the males for the females. Among the Homo erectus species, there was also better and more convenient co-operation between the male species when it came to chores and living together. Whether they used to communicate using spoken language is still a matter of contention (Jonason & Edgar, pp 1727). However, this species has often been looked at as the antecedent to Homo sapiens.
When considering the study of Human origin, the Homo erectus is a very important species. The period when the Homo erectus was present is where the modern human peculiar features are known to have developed. The modern cranial features developed during this period and the significant increase in the brain size also took place during this period of time. This period is also important taking into consideration the behavioural changes that accompanied it. This is when there was the emergence of controlled use of fire and the regular meat eating became popular. There were also much more developed lithic industries. Most of the things that many consider human can therefore be concluded to have taken place during this period. The anatomy of the human body changed and his behaviour became more human in terms of the lifestyle and co-habiting with one another.
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