Homo heidelbergensis

Homo heidelbergensis

Homo heidelbergensis ("Heidelberg Man") is an extinct species of the genus Homo which may be the direct ancestor of Homo neanderthalensis in Europe. The best evidence found for these hominins date between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago. H. heidelbergensis stone tool technology was considerably close to that of the Acheulean tools used by Homo erectus.

Morphology and interpretations

Both H. antecessor and H. heidelbergensis are likely descended from the morphologically very similar Homo ergaster from Africa. But 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 ft) on average, and more muscular than modern humans.

RAO hypothesis

According to the "Recent Out of Africa" theory, similar "Archaic Homo sapiens" found in Africa (ie. Homo sapiens idaltu only 160,000 years old), existing in Africa as a part of the operation of the Saharan pump, and not the European forms of Homo heidelbergensis, are thought to be direct ancestors of modern Homo sapiens.

Social behavior

In theory recent findings in Atapuerca also suggest that H. heidelbergensis may have been the first species of the Homo genus to bury their dead, but that is contested at this time. Some experts believe that H. heidelbergensis, like its descendant H. neanderthalensis acquired 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.


The morphology of the outer and middle ear suggests they had an auditory sensitivity similar to modern humans and very different from chimpanzees. They were probably able to differentiate between many different sounds.

Evidence of hunting

Cut marks found 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 possibly larger. During this era, now-extinct wild animals such as mammoths, European lions and Irish elk roamed the European continent.

Moreover, a number of 400,000 year old wooden projectile spears were found at Schöningen in northern Germany. These are thought to have been made by Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis. Generally, projectile weapons are more commonly associated with H. sapiens. The lack of projectile weaponry is an indication of different sustenance methods, rather than inferior technology or abilities. The situation is identical to that of native New Zealand Maori - modern Homo sapiens, who also rarely threw objects, but used spears and clubs instead.


The first fossil discovery of this species was made on October 21, 1907 and came from Mauer where the workman Daniel Hartmann spotted a jaw in a sandpit. The jaw (Mauer 1) was in good condition except for the missing premolar teeth, which were eventually found near the jaw. The workman gave it to professor Otto Schoetensack from the University of Heidelberg, who identified and named the fossil.

The next Homo heidelbergensis remains were found in Steinheim an der Murr, Germany (the Steinheim Skull, 350kya), Arago, France (Arago 21), Petralona, Greece and Ciampate del Diavolo, Italy.

Boxgrove Man

In 1994 British scientists had unearthed a lower hominin tibia bone just a few kilometres away from the English Channel including hundreds of ancient hand axes at the Boxgrove Quarry site. A partial leg bone is dated to 478,000 and 524,000 years old. Homo heidelbergensis was the early proto-human species that occupied both France and Great Britain at that time; both locales were connected by a landmass during that epoch. Prior to Gran Dolina, Boxgrove offered the earliest hominid occupants 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 .

Sima de los Huesos

Beginning in 1997, a Spanish team has located more than 5,500 human bones dated to an age of at least 350,000 years old 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 to be some kind of ritual offering for a funeral. Ninety percent of the known Homo heidelbergensis remains has been obtained from this site. The fossil pit bones include:

  • A complete cranium (Skull 5), nicknamed Miguelón, and fragments of other craniums, 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, a lot of postcranial bones (femurs, hand and foot bones, vertebrae, ribs, etc.)

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

Extinction or evolution

Some believe that H. heidelbergensis is an extinct species, some that is a cladistic ancestor to other Homo forms sometimes improperly linked to distinct species in terms of populational genetics.

Some scenarios of survival include

  • H heidelbergensis > H. neanderthalensis > H sapiens sapiens
  • H. heidelbergensis > H. rhodesiensis > H. idaltu > H sapiens sapiens

Those supporting multiregional origin of modern humans envise fertile reproduction bettween many evolutionary stages; Homo walking, or gene transfer between adjacent populations due to gene passage and spreading in successive generations.

See also


  • Sauer, A. (1985). Erläuterungen zur Geol. Karte 1 : 25 000 Baden-Württ.. Stuttgart:
  • Schoetensack, O. (1908). Der Unterkiefer des Homo heidelbergensis aus den Sanden von Mauer bei Heidelberg. Leipzig: Wilhelm Engelmann.
  • Weinert, H. (1937). "Dem Unterkiefer von Mauer zur 30-jährigen Wiederkehr seiner Entdeckung". Z. f. Morphol. u. Anthropol XXXVII (1): pp. 102–113.

External links

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