In the picture above all of the depictions, drawings, artistic re-creations are of Homo erectus. Ape-like, human-like, somewhere inbetween-like? White, tan, red, black, et al. Large brow, smaller brow. Was he hairy or virtually hairless like us? Which was he??? Answer: Most likely “all of the above.” Just like us today I think it highly likely that H. erectus came in many shapes, forms, and colors and that brings me to this first point……………
I do not completely believe the “Replacement Theory” (aka: the Out of Africa theory) that is in process of being debunked and I never have. I tend to lean more towards the Multi-regional theory that holds that ancient human ancestors were everywhere and didn’t come out of any one particular place. Rather than evolution, one species evolving into a higher species, I think it more likely that the different species of humans existed and co-existed at various times and INTERBRED with each other creating HYBRIDS. I see modern humans as the ultimate result of that interbreeding. We know some of us have Neanderthal DNA while others have Denisovan DNA and I am certain that when we can obtain some viable DNA from H. erectus and all older hominid species we will find we have their DNA within us as well.
So it’s NOT a matter of some “inferior” human species evolving into some so called “superior” human species! Rather, it is many human species interbreeding and resulting in hybrids.
Some places such as dry climates are good for fossil formation and fossil preservation. Other places such as tropical jungles are not conducive to fossil formation or fossil preservation. We find fossil remains of H. erectus from Africa to Europe to the Levant to India to Asia and to southeastern Asia. Because we hold this mythical view that the Americas were “once upon a time” a pristine paradise untouched by human hands we like to believe that H. erectus never existed in the Americas nor did any other ancient human ancestor but only us “special” modern humans. I do NOT believe that is the case and, in fact, I believe the evidence is starring us right in the face in the Americas and I am far from being alone in this opinion. In recent posts I have pointed this out and I have also pointed out that there were people living in the Americas before the coming of the Paleoindians across the Bering Landbridge who may well have been H. erectus or modern human hybrids as they certainly have physical features of both. Below is a map where I have plotted some of those locations of where H. erectus or their hybrid offspring were or may have been. You will notice this includes the Americas!
This said let us now take a look at some of the possible evidence for H. erectus and/or his hybrids being in the Americas……..
The 1st Asians: Homo erectus or maybe not?
Dmanisi Man (aka: H. georgicus) is found in Russian Georgia dating to around 1.75 mya. They had small brains and their skulls were rounded. Some researchers believe they are closer to H. habilis (“tool man”) than they are to H. erectus. They used the primitive Oldowan tools which were basically stone cores with chips pounded off of them.
The discoverers of Dmanisi Man believe it is a species of H. habilis that migrated out of Africa across the Levant and into the Caucasus of Eurasia possibly about 2 mya. If this is so then this means H. habilis not H. erectus was the first to migrate out of Africa. They also postulate that H. habilis (Dmanisi Man) evolved in Eurasia and became an early species of H. erectus. Ironically, we find that early H. erectus had a smaller browridge than did later H. erectus. When it comes to H. habilis he had large browridge but some later H. erectus had larger browridges than H. habilis.
So some stayed in Eurasia while some went eastward evolving into Peking Man (China) and Java Man (Indonesia) both of which are considered to be H. erectus. Some went back to Africa and evolved into H. ergaster there and these would eventually evolve into H. sapiens (modern humans). Along the way they must have interbred with other hominid species as evidenced by Mungo Man (Australia) who displays features of both H. erectus and modern humans. In Europe we have H. antecessor believed to have existed there between 1.2 mya to 780 kya. H. antecessor used Oldowan tools and is believed by some to be an offshoot of H. erectus.
This is all fine and well except many researchers don’t even consider H. habilis to be anything more than an advanced Australopithecine. So according to this line of thinking it was H. habilis who first left Africa not H. erectus. And then there is Homo floresiensis (aka: the Hobbit) which is more primitive than H. erectus, maybe. We find their remains in Indonesia on the island of Flores. They too apparently used Oldowan tools.
We also find Oldowan stone tools in India and northern Pakistan and we aren’t sure who made them. H. habilis or H. erectus? H. erectus started out making and using Oldowan stone tools and later developed the more sophisticated Acheulean stone tools.
What this all comes down to is we have ancient human ancestors in China and India around 2 mya that appear to be more akin to H. habilis. We may then have a split with some of these ancient ancestors moving northward in Asia and others moving southward into SE Asia. As I’ve noted several times in the past the landbridge between Siberia and Alaska existed more than once in the past. Hunters typically follow their prey. I’m sure these hunters did the same as their prey moved across the landbridge into the Americas. So what does this all suggest?
It suggests H. erectus and perhaps others would have crossed that landbridge. But there were other avenues into the Americas which will be discussed later.
At Denisova Cave located in the Altai Mountains of Russia we find the Denisovans and Neanderthals who are also found in Europe including at Spain’s “Pit of Bones” site. Recently at the site in Spain was found what appears to be an ancestor of the Neanderthals and this discovery has thrown the Out of Africa theory into chaos as I blogged about recently.
So the point of all this is to help you see how ancient human ancestors could have entered into the Americas via the landbridge and it is to the Americas we will now turn.
Homo erectus the Sailor?
Some have suggested that H. erectus may have reached the Americas not only by route of the landbridge but also by sea. We find evidence that H. erectus may have been capable of sailing upon the waters at a place known as Mata Menge which is in the So’a Basin on Flores Island, Indonesia. Both lithic and hominid remains have been found at this site and the stone tools here have been described as being generally “simple.’ I would suggest they are Oldowan stone tools. In 1970 Verhoeven and Maringer were the first to associate stone artifacts with a Stegodon kill site at this site on Flores Island. In order for H. erectus to reach this site they had to have crossed the open sea waters! In 1994 Sondaar and his team found a number of stone artifacts and fossil remains which yielded at date of about 750 kya and later when a new dating technique (a fission track method) dated the artifacts at 800 kya. In order to have crossed the open sea to get to Flores Island H. erectus hunter-navigators had to have cooperated. They had to have had language or some form of communication between each other and they had to have been intelligent. Far from being the “ape man” we think they were! In fact, I think it highly likely H. erectus was not the ape-like creature we may think but probably looked something more like the pic to the left. Getting back to Mata Menge some skeptics believe the artifacts are geofacts since no remains of H. erectus have been found there.
At some point these H. erectus hunter-seafarers went on to Australia via the waters. From there they may have continued their sea adventures to the Americas. Melanesians today have about 5% Denisovan DNA in their genomes. I think it likely Denisovans are no “mystery species” at all but were H. erectus or some variant thereof. Additional evidence for H. erectus being a sort of sailor also comes from Crete. The stone tool evidence indicates H. erectus crossed 40 miles of open water to reach the island of Crete from the mainland 130 kya. What all this evidence is suggesting is that H. erectus would have had little problem reaching the Americas via the sea!
Erectus Sailing Across the Atlantic
Sailing across the Pacific or crossing the landbridge between Siberia and Alaska would not have been the only means Homo erectus could have come to the Americas. The Atlantic Ocean provides another route as well.
One theory that has been floated around is that H. erectus did ride the waves and may have come to the Old World via the Atlantic from Africa to the Americas. When we think of H. erectus in Africa we typically think of sites found in East Africa, however, there are also H. erectus sites in West Africa!
These sites sit along Africa’s western coastlines from Angola to Senegal. Westerly trade winds could have taken H. erectus westerly to Brazil either purposefully or accidentally. Once in Brazil they could have migrated out in all directions reaching Argentina to the south and Mexico and North America to the north. So do we have any possible evidence for such voyages across the Atlantic by H. erectus?
Luzia Woman: The woman in the Brazilian Cave
Luzia Woman is believed to be a Paleo-Indian female which was discovered in a cave in Brazil and she may have been a part of the first wave of migrants into South America. Her remains have been dated at 11.5 kya. The remains were found in 1975 by an archaeologist named Annette Laming-Emperaire. The location of the remains was at Lapa Vermelha (Vermelha Cave). The skull had been separated from the rest of the skeleton but was reported to have been in good condition and it was buried under more than 40 feet of debris and mineral deposits. Hers were the only human remains found at the site.
New dating on the remains of Luzia Woman in 2013 confirmed her age ranging from 11.2-11.7 kya. Forensic analysis theorizes she died somewhere in her early 20s. Analysis of the skull of Luzia Woman indicates that her facial features were narrow. The shape of her cranium was oval. Her face was projecting and she had a pronounced chin. This chin is UNLIKE, strikingly, to most Native Americans and their Siberian ancestors! Some researchers believe Luzia Woman’s features are more similar to Negroids, indigenous Australians, or Melanesians. In my opinion and the opinions of several others Luzia Woman’s features MOST resemble those seen in Australia’s Aboriginal people and NOT those seen in Asian Siberians.
The theory is that Luzia Woman’s ancestors lived in SE Asia for tens of thousands of years and began arriving in the New World sometime around 15 kya. Another theory is that she may be the offspring or even one of the people who may have come from coastal Asia via boats along the Kuril Islands, then along the Beringian coast, and down the west coast of the Americas towards the end of the last ice age. Other researchers believe Luzia’s skull simply shows variations in normal Native American morphology possibly due to “genetic drift.” They also note that a comparison in 2005 of the Lagoa Santa skeletons including Luzia Woman with modern Aimore people from the same region of eastern Brazil show similarities and they believe Luzia woman and the other skeletal remains at the site are those of Aimore people not Australian or Melanesian.
Luzia was small only standing about 5 feet tall based on the recovery of about 1/3 of her remains. It appears she died after an accident or perhaps from an animal attack. Her people, based on other skeletal remains found at the site, indicate she and her people were hunter-gatherers.
When we conduct comparative morphological studies of some of the earliest skeletons found in the Americas we find we find that late prehistoric, recent, and modern Native Americans typically exhibit skull morphology similar to late and modern northern Asians. Northern Asians have short, wide skulls and high, orthognatic (jaw)and broad faces. Further, they have high and narrow eye orbits and noses. However, when we compare to the EARLIEST SOUTH AMERICANS we find that these early people tend to be more similar to AUSTRALIANS, Melanesians, and Sub-Saharan Africans whose skull morphology shows these people typically had/have narrow and long skulls with jutting lower faces. Their faces are also low and their noses and eye orbits are broad.
Most studies done on skull morphology involving Luzia Woman and her people’s remains were conducted using small numbers of skeletal remains. When larger samples were used it was found that SOUTH AMERICAN PALEOINDIANS WERE MOST SIMILAR TO AUSTRALO-MELANESIANS!! This evidence also supports the theory that at least two distinct biological populations possibly colonized the Americas sometime during the time when the Pleistocene was ending and the current Holocene period was beginning. The peopling of the Americas is confirmed to have been far more complicated than some would have us believe!
A study in 2005 by Walter Neves and Mark Hubbe (see PNAS link below) they concluded that differences seen in Luzia Woman’s people and other Native Americans CANNOT be the result of micro-evolutionary processes restricted to the Lagoa Santa region BECAUSE THE SAME CRANIAL PATTERNS HAVE ALSO BEEN DESCRIBED AT PLACES AS DISTANCE AND ECOLOGICALLY VARIED AS SOUTHERN CHILE, Columbia, MEXICO, elsewhere in Brazil, and EVEN IN THE USA!! (see map below)
Neves and Hubbe concluded in their 2005 study of skull morphology that the Americans were populated by two morphologically different human populations. One from Siberia/Asia and the other from Australia and/or SE Asia! They came to this conclusion for three reasons:
- it would be very UNLIKELY that the same evolutionary event happened in the Americas and in East Asia at the same time.
- In South America the transition between the two morphological patterns was abrupt
- Cranial morphology is known to respond adaptively ONLY in extreme environmental conditions.
There is archaeological data available that can be seen a supportive to such a dual occupation of the Americas; one from Siberia and the other from SE Asia, either directly or indirectly. Dixon analyzed the diversity of projectile points found at some of th earliest sites in North America and concluded two different cultures entered the continent at the end of the Pleistocene. Dixon believed that the bow and arrow was brought into the Americas by the second culture while the atlal was brought by the first. Further, recent findings suggest a pre-Clovis culture was present in South America.
DNA studies have suggested anywhere from one to four and maybe more occupations of the Americas by different cultures. Dates range anywhere from 12 kya to 35 kya.
Frankly, the skull morphology seen in Luzia Woman and her people and perhaps even seen in the modern Aimore (Botocudo) people of the area could suggest that they are hybrids of H. erectus, modern human interbreeding! Further, Luzia Woman displays some clearly Australio-South Eastern Asian features. I do not believe she and her people came from Siberia. They obviously came from SE Asia either by boat or the landbridge. If by the landbridge then I must ask why they’d walk all the way north out of Southeast Asia to Siberia when they could have come by boat. Then again, I think it highly likely H. erectus came to South America via Western Africa and crossed the Atlantic into Brazil which would have been easier than the other scenarios. So, I believe Luzia woman is a modern human, H. erectus hybrid!
We will continue our quest in future posts attempting to discover if H. erectus did come to the Americas. Stay tuned…………..
PART 1: H. erectus in the Americas: The Pericues of Baja