Homo erectus is an extinct species believed to have been the first hominid to leave the African continent. The issue of whether we are the direct descendants of this species is still being hotly debated.
The Homo erectus species migrated from Africa to various parts of the Old World around 2 million years ago, according to Wikipedia.com. Fossilized remains have been recovered as recently as 1 million years ago in some parts of Africa, Georgia, Spain, Indonesia, Vietnam and China.
Anthropologists believe the Homo erectus was most likely to have been the first human species appropriately categorized as a hunter-gatherer society. Anthropologist Richard Leakey considered the social aspects of the species closer to those of modern man than the groups who came before it. One reason is the link between a larger cranial capacity and the use of more sophisticated tools sometimes found with recovered remains.
Merritt Ruhlen, writing in 1994 in “The Origin of Language”, suggests that members of the Homo erectus species might have communicated with a sort of pre-language. This conclusion was based on the 1984 discovery at the Lake Turkana site in Africa. The remains showed evidence that despite the human-like anatomy of the species, members were physically incapable of making sounds associated with modern language. Their method of communication was likely more developed, however, than the methods used by chimpanzees.
Wikipedia reports that the most recent populations of Homo erectus probably marked the first hominid societies to live in band societies that resembled modern hunter gatherer groups. The species is also considered the first hominid to hunt on a large scale, utilize complex tools and care for weaker members of the band.
The wide migration of the species, even up to the Red Sea, indicates their ability to adapt to and master their environment. The oldest evidence so far of mammoth consumption is linked to Homo erectus in Africa’s Olduvai Gorge about 1.8 million years ago. Bruce Bower, writing in “BioScience” in April 2006, suggests that the hominids might have actually built rafts and traveled over oceans.
The earliest evidence of controlled fire dates to a site known as Terra Amata, on what is now known as the French Riviera, which was once occupied by Homo erectus. Later sites dating from 500,000 to 1.5 million years ago in France, China, Vietnam and other areas also indicate the controlled use of fire and are attributed to the species. However, some anthropologists hold that the use of fire was not typical of Homo erectus and is better linked to more advanced species of the Homo genus.
There is also some speculation that Homo erectus might have interbred with modern humans in Europe in Asia. However, genetic evidence supporting this conclusion appears to be scarce, and there remains no confirmed link between the species and the Homo sapiens species we call modern man.