Homo erectus—who, when and where: A survey



The state of information bearing on Homo erectus as developed since about 1960 is surveyed, with the resulting effects on problems. Definitions of H. erectus still rest on the Far Eastern samples (Chou-k'ou-tien/Java), and thus relate to late Lower to middle Middle Pleistocene material. Numerous important individual finds, however, have expanded the total: extension of the early and very early Sangiran material; very early to later in Africa, and relatively late in Europe. Datings remain uncertain or controversial within broad limits, but with some important successes and revisions.

Discussion by authors of problems concerns degree of divergence among H. erectus populations and rate of evolutionary change; both appear relatively slight, but the data are inadequate for much present judgment. The apparent zone of transition to more advanced morphology (H. sapiens, sensu lato) by the late Middle Pleistocene better reflects signs of regional divergence. Some writers—not all—believe that even the earliest European fossils known (e.g., Petralona) had already advanced to a H. sapiens basic level, with later change in the direction of Neanderthals. A separate African phylum, from OH 9, is also suggested; recent Chinese finds may provide a third different post-erectus population before the Upper Pleistocene. Taxonomic expression of all this gives some problems.