Homo erectus out of Africa
New technologies of Homo erectus:
Between 1.8 and 1.5 million years ago, Homo erectus continued the Oldowan technology of its predecessors. But around 1.5 million years ago we find evidence for a new type of stone tool technology, called the Acheulian:
- new stone tools called bifaces (cleavers and handaxes), which are large bifacially flaked core tools that could have served both as sources of small flakes, and as large cutting tools. They are very effective butchery tools, and continue to be made for over a million years. Sites with handaxes are called Acheulian technology sites, named after the site of St Acheul in France where handaxes were first described in the 19th century.
Note that Homo erectus is the first hominid to leave the African continent and colonize parts of southern Europe and Asia. Current evidence makes it likely that this had occurred before 1.5 million years ago (before Acheulian technology was invented), perhaps explaining why many early Eurasian sites contain only Oldowan-style core and flake tools, rather than handaxes. See an online article by Roy Larick and Russ Ciochon that discusses this evidence.
Some examples of early sites discussed in this article and highlighted in lecture include:
- sites in Java (e.g. Sangiran) : Homo erectus skulls, dated to between 1.8 and 1.6 mya
- sites in China (e.g. Longuopo): early Homo mandible fragment and pebble tools and flakes dated to between 1.8 - 1.5 mya
- Dmanisi site (Republic of Georgia): Homo erectus skulls, mandibles and flake and chopper tools dated to ~ 1.8 myr
An interesting question: since australopithecines never made it out of Africa, what did H. erectus have that they didn't? Possible suggestions:
- physiological advantages (e.g. stature, stamina)
- greater intelligence (planning ahead?)
- social advantages (e.g. cooperative social groups / foodsharing?)
- ecological flexibility (e.g. could use tools to get wider range of foods?)
They clearly could get significant amounts of animal foods. Could they HUNT? What would archaeological evidence of hunting look like? Most early sites, with bits and pieces of animal remains, could just as easily have been scavenged.
- Olorgesailie (Acheulian site in Kenya 1.0 - 0.5 my) ... a series of sites buried in lake margin and stream sediments at the foot of a volcano, preserve lots of handaxes, and also good evidence of elephant butchery (also a site with smashed hippo bones associated with stone tools)... plus a site with the remains of over 50 giant gelada baboons associated with handaxes and other stone tools.... suggesting either that this was some type of mass kill site, where a troop was surprized and killed off (which would be evidence for cooperative hunting?), or a site where baboons were regularly killed. (Remember that chimpanzees not only hunt, but they hunt cooperatively, using ambush techniques...)
- Boxgrove site (Acheulian site on coast of southern England 0.5 million years old) with evidence of spear wounds and cutmarks in eyeballs... suggest killing and butchering complete carcasses (Read a synopsis by the excavator)
- wooden spears recently recovered from Acheulian site in southern Germany 500,000 years old
Last updated: 19 November 2001
Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Jeanne Sept
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