What Was Homo Heidelbergensis?

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Homo heidelbergensis was a hominid species which lived around 400,000 years ago, and the most recent archaeological evidence suggests that these early humans were the direct ancestors of modern humans. They certainly had a lot in common with modern humans, although some very clear morphological differences set them apart from Homo sapiens. The majority of Homo heidelbergensis finds have occurred in Europe, but fossilized remains from other regions of the world have been classified in this species as well.

Scientists believe that Homo heidelbergensis descended from Homo ergaster, another early hominid. Homo heidelbergensis appears to have been one of the first hominids to venture out of Africa and into Europe, following the tracks of homo erectus, and archaeological digs in several regions of Europe suggest that these hominids formed large social groups. These digs have uncovered large numbers of tools, along with the evidence of hunting, the use of fire, and burial practices. Homo heidelbergensis may have been one of the first hominids to bury the dead, and archaeologists have also found evidence of other cultural rituals.


Homo heidelbergensis had a larger brain when compared to other hominid species, and a body type which appears to be very similar to that of modern humans, although Homo heidelbergensis was somewhat taller. Homo heidelbergensis was also capable of speech. Over time, Homo heidelbergensis evolved into two new species; modern humans, and the Neanderthals. Modern humans apparently supplanted the now-extinct Neanderthals; DNA studies on both species indicate that the two were certainly distinct from each other, although related through their common Homo heidelbergensis ancestors.

These hominids are named for Heidelberg, Germany, a city which is near the location of the first Homo heidelbergensis find, a jaw which was discovered in a sand pit. The jaw was classified by Otto Schoetensack as a entirely new hominid species, which caused a bit of a stir in the archaeological community, with some people arguing that the naming of a new species on the basis of a single jaw was a bit ambitious. However, later discoveries across Europe supported the idea that Homo heidelbergensis was a distinct and real hominid species, and the classification is now widely accepted by many archaeologists.

Fossilized examples of these human ancestors can be seen on display in several museums around the world, and archaeological digs uncover more periodically. Study of these fossils helps to fill in the gaps of human history, providing more information about our origins and the lives that these early humans led.


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Post 5

Dwiyana said, "Whatever size heads they have, the only ones who are the ancestors of ourselves, namely Homo sapiens, are the ones in Africa. So the only sense in which Homo heidelbergensis can be our ancestor is if he (or she) is in Africa too, which is seldom said to be the case."

I believe you may be confusing something here. The "Out of Africa" theory has "Lucy" as the ultimate source, but I believe Lucy is (arguably) around 3.5 million years ago.

As I understand it the Heidelbergensis strain is in the realm of 600,000 to 400,000 BCE and it is thought that he/she moved out of Africa as far back as 1 million BCE and

into both Asia and Europe.

I am also puzzled slightly about the references by Diwiyana of a find in Spain. It is probably not the find I am familiar with, as those have been classified as Homo Heidelbergensis. (BTW, I am American and we call them Heidelbergensis). Truthfully, I have not heard anyone use the term "archaic Homo sapiens". Perhaps I am just not well-informed. I am after all only a simple American.

Post 4

What I have seen recently was that the modern man and Neanderthal genomes point to a common ancestor in Heidelberg Man.

This was an amazing thing inasmuch as Heidelberg Man was originally thought to be questionable and then after enough skeletons were discovered, they still thought Heidelbergensis was an offshoot on the hominid tree.

Now it appears that as far as we are concerned, they are the branch of the tree we sprouted from. This is recent due to the genome work.

Post 2

When was this discovery was made?

Post 1

This discussion is a teensy bit confusing. Homo erectus is the hominid (or hominin if you prefer the newer terminology) which evolved in Africa after the australopithecines. Some experts like to distinguish the ones in Africa from the ones in Asia. Those who do that call the Africans Homo ergaster, while the ones in Asia are Homo erectus. Those who don't distinguish those two groups lump them all together as Homo erectus, confusing everyone else.

After awhile, some of the ones in Asia or in Africa managed to discover Europe (about 1 million years ago). These are the lot whom European scientists like to classify as a third group, Homo heidelbergensis. Some go so far as to call a few

later critters in Africa with big heads Homo heidelbergensis also, but most don't do that. However some of those Asian guys also got big heads eventually and they never get any name change, but are always and only Homo erectus, big or little headed as they may be.

Whatever size heads they have, the only ones who are the ancestors of ourselves, namely Homo sapiens, are the ones in Africa. So the only sense in which Homo heidelbergensis can be our ancestor is if he (or she) is in Africa too, which is seldom said to be the case.

Which is why this is confusing, since most scientists only use the heidelbergensis label for the European fellows with the big heads. American scientists prefer the expression "archaic Homo sapiens" instead, which is even more confusing.

And the scientists who found some intermediate characters in Spain, very early, prefer still another characterization of just that group, Homo antecessor. That would make things as confusing as possible for the student, but more exciting for the discoverers of fossils. Neanderthals are not our main ancestors in any case, but descendants of the European Homo, whoever he and she was -- whether called heidelbergensis, erectus, or antecessor.

If that's not confusing enough, try discussing australopithecines.

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