Homo Erectus Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Homo erectus was an ancient human that roamed the Earth millions of years ago. Fossil evidence of these early people have been found in Africa and Asia. How were they different from us? Read on to find out more.

An Uncovered Treasure

Imagine you are on the island of Java in Indonesia, looking for fossils. Fossils are the remains of things that lived a long, long time ago, preserved as part of the Earth. You are hoping to find clues about what early humans were like.

Soon, you realize that you have hit the jackpot of fossils when you uncover part of a human skull. You keep digging and find human leg bones, too! You know right away that these aren't just any old fossils. In fact, they belong to an ancient human known as Homo erectus.

Artist rendition of Homo erectus fossils found by Eugene Dubois
homo erectus

This is exactly what happened in 1890 for Dutch surgeon Eugene Dubois. His discovery of Homo erectus fossils was the first of its kind. Meaning 'upright man,' Homo erectus was one of the first species of human to walk on two feet and live on the ground.

In this lesson, learn more about this ancient human and how it lived millions of years ago.

When and Where Did Homo Erectus live?

Homo erectus is thought to have lived during the Pleistocene era, which occurred about 2 million years ago until about 150,000 years ago. Although scientists believe that Homo erectus came from Africa, these early people probably moved to Asia and possibly even Europe. Since there is no time machine to see what really happened, scientists must try to make guesses based on what they learn from fossils.

Fossil Evidence of Homo Erectus

Fossils can tell us a lot about what the past was like. But unfortunately, fossils don't come with dates on them. So how do scientists know how old a bone is? They use special techniques that help them determine from which time period the fossil came. So, what types of fossils are they looking for?

Replica of a Homo erectus skull
homo erectus

Any fossil is a great find, but discovering the fossil of a skull is like finding buried treasure. Skulls show major differences between various species of humans, both ancient and modern. Let's take a look at how Homo erectus was different from us.

The first Homo erectus skull found had features in common with both modern human skulls and the skulls of apes. A fairly flat, low top of the skull means that Homo erectus had a smaller brain than we do. The brow, or bone above the eyes, is large and sticks out more than our do. The nose and jaw are large and wide, with the jaw pushing out much farther than ours. Finally, the teeth of Homo erectus are much larger than those of modern humans.

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