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Homo Erectus

Homo Erectus

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True or false? Homo erectus could climb trees as well as apes can.

Homo Erectus

We return to Africa, one and half million years back in time. Look a Paranthropus! She is using a sharpened piece of bone, to dig into a termite mound. She’s looking for something to eat. But she seems uneasy.

Better hide! Someone is coming. He’s so tall! And he has hardly any hair! And look how easily he walks, on two legs!

What is he carrying? It looks like a long, sharp stick. And there’s more of them. And they have caught an antelope! Oh, lightning struck a tree, and it’s burning!

The rain has almost put the fire out. Oh, that’s a brave one, walking towards the fire, watching it, and grabbing a burning stick! Ouch, she burned herself. Yes, that's probably wiser. The others still seem a bit wary.

But also curious. Yes, feed the fire, it will burn better. It’s warm and cozy. And wild animals will stay away from fire. But, oh!

The antelope got a bit burned. Maybe it is still ok to eat? Hm. They seem to like warm meat! Paranthropus watches, amazed.

She has just seen a new kind of pre-human walk into her territory. It will be given the name Homo erectus. Paranthropus climbs a high tree. She’s afraid. Up there she doesn't need to be.

Because this pre-human, Homo erectus, isn't so good at climbing any more. They have been walking on two legs for such a long time, their hands and feet have changed. The toes and fingers of Homo erectus can't grab trees and branches like apes can. Many hundreds of thousands of years walking the savanna have given them longer legs and shorter arms than their ancestors. They seem to be the first species of pre-humans that walk upright all the time.

Homo erectus means the ‘upright human’ in latin. Walking on two legs gives Homo erectus advantages. Not having much fur is also beneficial. Without a lot of hair, their bodies can sweat, and they are able to run further. They can move over much larger areas, and they can follow and hunt prey both inside and outside their own territory, their habitat.

As a result of this they encounter new species of prey, that they learn how to hunt and eat. Homo erectus’ menu just gets bigger and bigger. By eating more meat and other proteins, their brains develop and become larger. They become smarter. Homo erectus is probably the first pre-human who learns to use fire for heat, to cook on, and as protection against predators.

Maybe it is around the fire that Homo erectus develops the knowledge of how to chip rocks and produce more advanced stone tools than any pre-human ever did before? Erectus can chip stones to make axes, knives, and spears to hunt for larger prey. Maybe they become braver, and dare to move over larger areas? Homo erectus do not only stay in East Africa. They are the first pre-humans we know of that leave Africa, and who walk into Asia, as far away as China.

They are probably hunting after animals. This pre-human species lives over a longer period of time than any other pre-human. For almost one million, eight hundred thousand years, Homo erectus lives and wanders the world, first in Africa, but soon in Asia, and maybe also in Europe. She lives side by side with many other species of pre-humans. Maybe it’s even possible that before Homo erectus dies out, she might actually encounter our own species, Homo sapiens.