Transitional Hominids Lab 10, Week of 11/04/03 Purpose

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ANT 3514- Introduction to Biological Anthropology

Transitional Hominids

Lab 10, Week of 11/04/03

Purpose: The purpose of this lab is for you to examine fossil casts and information concerning transitional hominins. You will answer questions concerning Homo erectus/ergaster, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo heidelbergensis, as well as consider comparative questions concerning the relation of these hominins to earlier forms (Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis).
Associated Readings: Chapters 10-12 in your textbook

Terminology Issues: As you are all now well aware, things change quickly in the field of paleoanthropology! This includes various issues in terminology.

Homo erectus v. Homo ergasterFossils attributed to these groups span a wide geographic range and an enormous span of time. In addition, the fossils include a wide range of anatomical variability. As such, many researchers (the “splitters”) claim the group should be divided into two. Since the first finds attributed to this group came from Asia, “splitters” feel that the name Homo erectus should be reserved for those fossils more closely associated with the Asian finds in geographic distribution, time range, and anatomical features. The other fossils (those from Africa) should therefore be given a new designation of Homo ergaster. Not all researchers agree, however. The “lumpers” feel that the anatomical variability found among these specimens falls in line with their wide geographic distribution, and therefore only the name Homo erectus should be retained. The author of your textbook, Bernard Campbell, is a lumper (at least concerning Homo erectus). Therefore, keeping in line with the text, those specimens originating from Africa will be denoted as “African Homo erectus (Homo ergaster).”

Homo neanderthalensis v. Homo sapiens neanderthalensisIt is now generally agreed by most researchers that Neanderthals are a separate species of the genus Homo. However, you should be aware that Neaderthals are sometimes (depending on what you are reading and the publish date) referred to as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, denoting a subspecies designation within the species Homo sapiens. Keeping in line with the text, Neanderthals will be denoted as Homo neanderthalensis (or simply Neanderthals).

Archaic Homo sapiens v. Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensisPost-erectus specimens span a wide geographic range and are extremely variable in morphology. As such, many researchers disagree on the number of post-erectus species and their relations to one another. Until only recently (within the last 10 years), most of these specimens were thrown into a wastebasket category called “archaic Homo sapiens,” which may or may not have included Neanderthals. Most researchers now agree that at least three species are represented by “archaic Homo sapiens,” (Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens), although there is still widespread disagreement on allocation of fossils to these taxa. (And the hard core splitters argue that additional species should be recognized.) Keeping in line with your text, we will dispose of the wastebasket term, using instead Homo heidelbergensis and Homo neanderthalensis. (But know that you may come across numerous sources that use the old terminology, particularly if the source isn’t recent.)

Although this lab is not due until next week, it might be helpful to fill in the following table before you attend your lab session.
(at home) Transitional Hominids


Date Range

Cranial Capacity


Geographic Distribution

Homo habilis

Homo rudolfensis

Homo ergaster

Homo erectus

Homo heidelbergensis

Homo neanderthalensis

STATION 1 – Early Homo

(in class) Discuss the anatomical variation between Homo habilis, African Homo erectus (Homo ergaster), and Homo rudolfensis regarding:

Homo rudolfensis

African Homo erectus (H. ergaster)

Facial prognathism

Supraorbital Torus

Cranial Vault (Shape/Height)

Orbit Size and Shape

Occipital Area (Torus)

(at home) Some scientists have argued that H. habilis and H. rudolfensis are one species. Do you think there is good reason to separate these skulls into two species or should they be collapsed into a single species? Explain your reasoning.

STATION 2 – Homo ergaster vs. Homo erectus

(in class) Compare Homo erectus and Homo ergaster. Complete the table:

Homo erectus (Sangiran 17)

Homo ergaster (KNM-ER 3733)

- long and low vault, receding frontal “squama”

- angulation at rear of skull with a “transverse” occipital torus present

- large supraorbital torus

- high, rounded orbits

- strong alveolar prognathism

- canine fossa absent

STATION 3 – Homo heidelbergensis

(in class) Compare the supraorbital tori and frontal bones between Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis (Kabwe). Are there any differences?

(in class) Name several differences (at least 2) between Homo heidelbergensis and modern Homo sapiens.

(at home) Discuss the temporal (time) and spatial (geographic distribution) overlap between Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis. What might the anatomical, temporal and spatial data regarding Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis imply regarding the evolutionary family tree? (Refer to Box 10-1 and 14-2)

STATION 4- Homo neanderthalensis
(in class) Compare the “classic” Neanderthal features with the anatomically modern human from Cro-Magnon (France).

Homo neanderthalensis

Homo sapiens

Skull vault

(long vs. short; high vs. low)

Presence/Absence of occipital bun

Supraorbital torus

Eye orbits


Nasal area


Degree of Prognathism

Presence/Absence of canine fossa

Retromolar gap


Presence/Absence of chin

(at home) What about these features (and other anatomical features) suggest the Neanderthals were adapted to the cold?

STATION 5 – Hominid femora
(in class) Four femora are present at this station. Match each with the correct taxa listed below. List at list one trait that indicated the femur belong to that particular taxa.
Early Homo

Homo ergaster


Homo sapiens
(at home) What might account for these differences in the femora?

STATION 6 –Stone Tool Industries

Before you are four reproductions of stone tools that date from approximately 2.4 to 30 kya. These tools are of the Olduwan, Acheulian, and Mousterian industries. Olduwan tools have traditionally been associated with H. habilis, Acheulian tools with H. erectus, and Mousterian tools with Archaic H. sapiens. Examine the tools and sketch them.

(at home) Briefly describe the purpose for which you think the Oldowan choppers and flakes may have been used, and why. Use complete sentences. (Refer to pages 308-313 in your text).

(at home) Using your textbook, answer the following questions. (p. 483-486)
What is the accepted origination date for the Levallois technique?
Where have tools produced by the Levallois technique been found? Where haven’t they been found?

(p. 494-497)

(at home) Briefly discuss the lithic technology of Neanderthals. Minimal of two points. Use complete sentences. (pgs.494-497)

EXTRA CREDIT (3 points): Visit this site, and then click on dig and deduce. Answer the following questions based on the different sites.
Site 1

What is a “living floor”? Is the excavated layer represented here a living floor?

What probably caused the alignment of the artifacts in this layer?

Can we say with certainty whether or not the hominids present at this site ate Bos? Why or why not?

What is the name of the archaeological site upon which this example excavation is based?

Site 2

What hominid were the skull fragments found at this site attributed to?

What characteristics suggested it should be attributed to that particular hominid?

What other hominid species have the stone tools found at this site been associated with?

What is the name of the archaeological site upon which this example excavation is based?

Site 3

What artifacts were recovered from this site?

What three types are represented?

According to what most archaeologists believe today, is sorting by type meaningful?

What is the name of the archaeological site upon which this example excavation is based?

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