Homo erectus ("upright man") is a hominid species that is believed to be an ancestor of modern humans. Homo erectus lived between 1.6 million and 300,000 years ago. Homo erectus inhabited Africa, Asia and Europe. Their large brains allowed them to easily adapt to a wide variety of environments. In Africa, the climate was warmer, in Europe and Asia it was cold. Homo erectus is thought to have evolved in Africa from H. habilis, the first member of the genus Homo. It had fairly modern human features, with a larger cranial capacity than that of Homo habilis. The size of its braincase is 800-1100 cc. Their jaw was larger than ours. Homo erectus would bear a striking resemblance to modern humans, but had a brain about 74 percent of the size of modern man. These early hominids were tall, on average standing approximately 5’5” to 5”9”.
Homo erectus also used more diverse and sophisticated tools than its predecessors. The surviving tools are all made of stone. Hand axes were made of stone that was chipped on both sides to form two cutting edges. Crude choppers or hammer-stones of varying size were the simplest, fitting easily into the hand and with an edge formed by removing flakes from either side along one face. Knives, made of stone were used to cut meat from the carcass. Flint rock was used to make fire.
With the discovery of fire, Homo erectus became even more adept at survival. Fire allowed them to cook their food, to stay warm in cool environments, and to utilize caves as shelter. Control of fire made moving into colder regions possible, as fire they could count on to provide them with warmth. As man had already discovered, most animals were afraid of fire, so a roaring campfire gave protection to the group or tribe. It also changed the way they prepared food. These people began to cook their food consistently. Food that is cooked is more secure from disease and much softer to eat. As a result, it would have been easier for the young and the old to survive.
About one million years ago, these people began to slowly leave Africa and travel to other continents. They did not need a boat. The Ice Age was here! For a very long time, the earth was frozen, creating giant walkways, which were natural bridges of solid, frozen ice and land. These "walkways" allowed them to travel over what would later be vast rivers and seas. Some of the walkways were a hundred miles wide!
Like the discovery of Lucy, scientists found another skeleton near Peking, China, that dates to this period. This skeleton is referred to as the "Peking Man".
Artifacts have also been found of their tools and weapons, which help us to understand how they lived, where they went, and how they got there.