Fossil range: Pleistocene
Homo heidelbergensis ("Heidelberg Man") is an extinct, potentially distinct species of the genus Homo and may be the direct ancestor of Homo neanderthalensis in Europe. According to the "Recent Out of Africa" theory, similar "Archaic Homo sapiens" found in Africa (ie. Homo rhodesiensis and Homo sapiens idaltu), 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. Homo antecessor is likely a direct ancestor living 750,000 years ago evolving into Homo heidelbergensis appearing in the fossil record living roughly 600,000 to 250,000 years ago through various areas of Europe.
Homo heidelbergensis remains were found in Mauer near Heidelberg, Germany and then later in Arago, France and Petralona, Greece. The best evidence found for these hominins date between 400,000 and 500,000 years ago.
H. heidelbergensis stone tool technology was considerably close to that of the Acheulean tools used by Homo erectus. 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 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.
Most current experts believe Rhodesian Man, found in Africa, to be within the group Homo heidelbergensis. This would make African heidelbergensis the ancestor of humans while the European variety would be the ancestor of the Neanderthals.
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 cc overlapping the 1350 cc 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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. Investigators found another particular scratched tibia indicating cannibalism had taken place.
- SAUER, A. (1985): Erläuterungen zur Geol. Karte 1 : 25 000 Baden-Württ., Blatt 6618 Heidelberg-Süd (früher Blatt Neckargemünd) 110 S., 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. Bd.XXXVII, Heft 1, S.102-113
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