Homo erectus, (Latin: "upright man") extinct species of the human genus (Homo), perhaps an ancestor of modern humans (Homo sapiens). H. erectus most likely originated in Africa, though Eurasia cannot be ruled out. Regardless of where it first evolved, the species seems to have dispersed quickly, starting about 1.9 million years ago (mya) near the middle of the Pleistocene Epoch, moving through the African tropics, Europe, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. This history has been recorded directly if imprecisely by many sites that have yielded fossil remains of H. erectus. At other localities, broken animal bones and stone tools have indicated the presence of the species, though there are no traces of the people themselves. H. erectus was a human of medium stature that walked upright. The braincase was low, the forehead was receded, and the nose, jaws, and palate were wide. The brain was smaller and the teeth larger than in modern humans. H. erectus appears to have been the first human species to control fire, some 1,000,000 years ago. The species seems to have flourished until some 200,000 years ago (200 kya) or perhaps later before giving way to other humans including Homo sapiens.
It's long been thought that so-called modern human behavior first arose during the middle Stone Age, in "modern" humans--Homo sapiens.
At the prehistoric Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in northern Israel, researchers have found the earliest known evidence of social organization, communication, and divided living and working spaces--all considered hallmarks of modern human behavior.
Traditionally, the search for the earliest signs of modern human behavior has focused on Homo sapiens sites from the middle Stone Age (roughly 300,000 to 50,000 years ago), due to the preponderance of evidence found at them in the past.
Based on their finds and evidence from other sites and groups, the researchers assume there was a division of labor at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov.
Eugène Dubois, a Dutch surgeon, found the first Homo erectus individual (Trinil 2) in Indonesia in 1891. In 1894, Dubois named the species Pithecanthropus erectus, or 'erect ape-man.' At that time, Pithecanthropus (later changed to Homo) erectus was the most primitive and smallest-brained of all known early human species; no early human fossils had even been discovered in Africa yet.
Some scientists distinguish between the African (Homo ergaster) and Asian (Homo erectus sensu stricto) fossils of this taxon, while others lump them together as Homo erectus sensu lato. In either case, there is general agreement that it descended from an earlier species of Homo (e.g., Homo habilis) and represents one of the widest dispersals of early humans in our evolutionary history. It is likely that distinct populations of Homo erectus sensu lato led to the emergence of later hominin species, such as Homo heidelbergensis, and ultimately to our own species, Homo sapiens.
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