Homo ergaster

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Homo ergaster
Fossil range: Pleistocene
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Subfamily: Homininae
Tribe: Hominini
Subtribe: Hominina
Genus: Homo
Species: H. ergaster
Binomial name
Homo ergaster
Colin Groves & Vratja Mazak, 1975

Homo ergaster (Greek derivation: working man), an early hominid (refer also to hominim), may either have been a predecessor of Homo erectus or an early group of Homo erectus. H. ergaster’s presence has been dated variously and may have ranged over a period of 1.9 to 1.5 million years ago. Remains of H. ergaster have been discovered in Kenya and Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

History of Discovery


H. ergaster had a rounded cranium and a prominent browridge. Compared to Australopithecus, its teeth were significantly smaller. Features that distinguish H. ergaster from H. erectus were thinner bones of the skull and the lack of an obvious sulcus, or depression, immediately posterior of the browridge.[1][2][3][6]

Taxonomic status

The genus Homo currently includes a possible six extinct species and the one remaining modern human species, Homo sapiens. H. rudolfensis and H. habilis were contemporaries. Prior to the emergence of later species of the genus, the fossil record indicates that H. ergaster was without contemporaries of the same genus. This may simply be due to an incomplete fossil record however. H. erectus appeared well before the remaining members of the genus and were contemporaries within the last one million years with H. heidelbergensis, H. neaderthalensis and H. sapiens. The last of these to become extinct was H. neanderthalensis.[7][8]

Homo habilis

Originally described by Louis Leakey, John Napier, and Philip Tobias from finds at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, in 1964, H. habilis fossils have been found in eastern and possibly southern Africa. Dated to sometime between about 1.9 million and 1.6 million years ago and possibly as early as 2.4 million years ago, H. hablis fossils resemble those of australopiths, but had smaller and narrower molar teeth, premolar teeth, and jaws than possible predecessors and contemporary species.[9]

Homo rudolfensis

H. rudolfensis are named after the initial discovery of fossils near Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana), northern Kenya. Existing fossils date from about 1.9 million years ago but the time range of this species has not been determined. H. rudolfensis would have been a contemporary of H. habilis but any interaction between them is unknown.[10]

Homo ergaster

Possibly an early form of H. erectus.

Homo erectus

Discovered first in Java by Dutch physician Eugene Dubois in 1891. Dubois named his find Pithecanthropus erectus, or "erect ape-man". H. erectus may or may not be a later group of Homo ergaster, but did then spread to Asia between 1.8 million and 1.5 million years ago. The most recent fossils discovered are from the Solo River in Java, and have been dated to about 50,000 years old. Having survived for more than 1.5 million years, it was particularly successful.

H. erectus had a low and rounded braincase, elongated from front to back, a pronounced brow ridge, and a cranial capacity of 800 to 1,250 cc in adults.[11]

Homo heidelbergensis

Currently there is evidence that early humans migrated into Europe by 800,000 years ago. These populations evidently were not Homo erectus. Predating both H. neanderthalensis and H. sapiens in the region, they are designated as H. heidelbergensis, named for a 500,000-year-old jaw found near Heidelberg, Germany. Stockier that H. ergaster and H. habilis, their fossils have been found in Bodo, Ethiopia; Saldanha (also known as Elandsfontein), South Africa; Ndutu, Tanzania; and Kabwe, Zimbabwe.

They may have been a distinct species or they may have been the predecessors of Neanderthals (in Europe) and H. sapiens (in Africa). Their place in the progress of evolution is unclear.[12]

Homo neanderthalensis

Neanderthal fossils have been found in western Europe and throughout central Asia. Neanderthals were extent between about 200,000 and 36,000 years ago and may have persisted as late as 28-24,000 years ago. Neanderthal (sometimes spelled Neandertal) are named for fossils found in 1856 in the Feldhofer Cave of the Neander Valley in Germany (thal is the old spelling of the word meaning "valley" in German). Fossils found earlier at Engis, Belgium, in 1829 and at Forbes Quarry, Gibraltar, in 1848 (the first early Homo fossils ever found) are now believed to be Neanderthals.[13]

Homo sapiens

Modern humans, the oldest known fossils with skeletal features typical of modern humans date from between 130,000 and 90,000 years ago. Fossils of modern Homo sapiens have been found Singha, Sudan; Omo, Ethiopia; Klasies River Mouth, South Africa; and Skhãl Cave, Israel.[14]


Language in Homo ergaster

Endocast of the Nariokotome/Turkana boy's brain cavity indicate that Broca's area of the brain (a part of the brain that serves essential functions in speech), showed visible signs development. However, it is unlikely he was able to speak as modern humans do due to anatomical characteristics indicating that differences in breathing would have made complex sound production problematic.[15]


Koobi Fora

Koobi Fora is on the east shore of Lake Turkana[16] which lies in Kenya and Ethiopia. Koobi Fora is one of the richest fossil sites on earth. Known from early 20th century as a source of Neogene vertebrate fossils, its wealth of hominid fossil did not become apparent until systematic studies began in the mid to late 1960s. Other hominids found at Koobi Fora include Australopithecus afarensis, A. africanus,A. anamensis, and A. boisei, Homo erectus, and H. habilis, Paranthropus boisei, Paranthropus aethiopicus and Kenyanthropus platyops.[17][18][19][20][21]


Much of the current debate on the Dmanisi discoveries centers around the issue of whether the classification for the fossils are H. ergaster or H. erectus. Confounding the debate is the issue of whether or not these are even two different species of the genus Homo. The current dating for this site indicates that the H. ergaster/erectus inhabitated the area sometime between 1.8 to 1.2 million years ago.

Temporal range

There is a considerable range given in the literature. Some sources estimate that H. ergaster appeared as early as 1.9 million years ago and others no earlier than 1.7 mya. The latest H. ergaster would seem to have survived is about 1.5 or 1.4 mya.

Associated artifacts

Tool making and use

H. ergaster evidently used large cutting tools of stone, primarily hand axes and cleavers. These tools represent an advanced stage of stone tool technology known as the Achulean stone tool industry now believed to have developed after hominid migration out of the region of eastern Africa.[1]

Important fossils

KNM ER 3733 cranium

Discovered by Bernard Ngeneo in Koobi Fora, Kenya in 1975, ER 3733 is a mature female that may have lived about 1.75 million years ago.[22]

KNM ER 3883 cranium

Discovered in 1976 by Richard Leakey, the ER 3883 is a skull cap which retains an intact right orbit. ER 3883 has no sulcus or depression behind its large browridges.

Found in Koobi Fora, Kenya, ER 3883 was originally thought to be species Homo erectus but has been reclassified as Homo ergaster. ER 3883 may have belonged to a male that lived about 1.5 million years ago.[23]

KNM ER 992 mandible

ER 992 was discovered in 1971 by Richard Leakey in Koobi Fora, Kenya. It is dated to about 1.5 million years ago. The ER 992 mandible shows a lighter build and smaller teeth than Homo erectus.[6]

KNM WT 15000 (Turkana Boy)

Turkana Boy, also known as Nariokotome Boy, is a nearly complete skeleton discovered in West Turkana, Kenya, August 22, 1984 by Kamoya Kimeu. It is one of the most significant finds in paleoanthropology. TW15000 is the skeleton of an immature boy, about 9-12 years of age, already more than 5 feet in height at the time of death Its height is a significant increase in size over earlier hominids which were about the size of modern chimpanzees. At maturity it might have attained a height of about 6 feet and approximately 150 lbs. WT 15000 lived about 1.6 million years ago. Cause of death is unknown but evidence of abscessed teeth may indicate septicemia as the cause.

WT 15000 cranial capacity is measured at 880cc and might have attained an adult cranial capacity of 909cc.

WT 15000 had slender hips that were better adapted to walking and running over long distances than other hominids. Arm and leg bones were proportioned more like those of modern humans, rather than the shorter legs and longer arms (or more ape-like proportions) of Homo habilis and Africanus afarensis. The long and slender, body was likely more adapted to a tropical environment, an inference drawn from the fact that most modern humans that live in the tropical areas are similarly built.[24][25][26]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Homo ergaster Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  2. 2.0 2.1 Homo ergaster Steven Heslip, Michigan State University
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dmanisi hominids Dmanisi Site
  4. Doubting Dmanisi Pat Shipman (2000) American Scientist On-Line. Vol. 88: 6 (p. 491). Note: A great deal of the debate around the species found at Dmanisi has focused on the disagreement on characteristics of various species of hominid. One interpretation now has it that Homo ergaster is shorthand for "the earliest part of the evolving ergaster/erectus lineage."
  5. Earliest Pleistocene hominid cranial remains from Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia: Taxonomy, Geological Setting, and Age L. Gabunia, A. Vekua, D. Lordkipanidze, C.C. Swisher III, R. Ferring, A. Justus, M. Nioradze, M. Tvalrelidze, S.C. Anton, G. Bosinski, O. J`ris, M.A. de Lumley, G. Majsuradzs, and A. Muskhelishvili (2000). Summary of article appearing in Science vol. 288, pages 1019-1025. May 12, 2000
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 KNM ER 992 Smithsonian Institute
  7. Human Ancestry: Species Archeology Info
  8. Origin of the genus Homo Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
  9. Homo habilis Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  10. Homo rudolfensis Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  11. Homo erectus Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  12. Homo heidelbergensis Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  13. Homo neanderthalensis Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  14. Homo sapiens Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  15. Hominid evolution Schwartz, Jeffrey H. (2007) Dept. of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh
  16. [1] World Lakes Database
  17. Book Review McHenry, Henry M. (1992) American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Review of Koobi Fora Research Project Vol. 4 Bernard Wood. New York: Oxford University Press. 1991.
  18. Koobi Fora Research Project
  19. History of the KFRP
  20. New Human Ancestor Found California Academy of Sciences
  21. Lake Turkana University of Trieste
  22. KNM ER 3733 Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  23. KNM ER 3883 Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  24. The Turkana BoyDepartment of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institute
  25. Leaving home - 2 million years ago Science & nature, BBC
  26. Treasure on the Nariokotome Murphy, Jamie (1984) Time Magazine