Later Middle Pleistocene Homo

  • G. Philip Rightmire
Living reference work entry


Hominin fossils are known from Middle Pleistocene localities in Africa, Europe, South Asia, and the Far East. It is recognized that these individuals display traits that are derived in comparison to the condition in H. erectus. However, the skulls retain numerous primitive features that set them apart from modern humans. Faces are massively built with strong supraorbital tori, frontals are flattened, and vaults remain low with less parietal expansion than in H. sapiens. The hominins from Bodo, Broken Hill, and Elandsfontein in Africa are quite similar to their Middle Pleistocene contemporaries in Europe. Crania and jaws from Arago Cave and Petralona, and the spectacular assemblage from Sima de los Huesos, are particularly informative. In sum, this evidence suggests a speciation event in which H. erectus gave rise to a daughter lineage. At or before the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene, new populations spread through Africa and western Eurasia and perhaps also to the Far East. How the fossils should be treated taxonomically is currently uncertain. One view emphasizes gradual anagenetic change, while others advocate speciation occurring repeatedly throughout the Pleistocene. In the perspective favored here, differences between the Middle Pleistocene hominins can be attributed to geography, time, or intragroup variation. Many, if not all, of the European and African specimens can be accommodated in one species distinct from Neanderthals and modern humans. If the Mauer mandible is included in this hypodigm, then the appropriate name is H. heidelbergensis. This species is probably ancestral to both the Neanderthals in Europe and the earliest representatives of H. sapiens in Africa.


Brain Size Cranial Base Frontal Bone Articular Tubercle Incisive Canal 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Evolutionary BiologyHarvard University, Peabody MuseumCambridgeUSA

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