Homo heidelbergensis

"Skulls number 5 " from the " Sima de los huesos " at Atapuerca

Homo heidelbergensis ( "Heidelberg Man" ) is an extinct species of the genus Homo - Hominini. Of this type are particularly associated fossils from the Pleistocene Europe that are 600000-200000 years old.

Homo heidelbergensis evolved from Homo erectus and evolved about 200,000 years ago in Europe the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis ) on. Because there is no clear dividing line between Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis or Homo heidelbergensis and Neanderthals, is the assignment of many discoveries to one or the other Chrono species to date under paleoanthropologists - between so-called Lumpern and splinters - controversial. Some researchers suggest a part of the Homo heidelbergensis associated findings as mere variants of Homo erectus.


The name of the genus Homo is derived from the Latin homo [ hɔmo ː ] "man." The epithet heidelbergensis reminiscent of the locality of the type specimen in a sand pit the church wall at Heidelberg. Homo heidelbergensis thus means " the Heidelberg Man".

The type specimen

Type specimen of Homo heidelbergensis is the lower jaw of the wall, which now houses an age of 609,000 ± 40,000 years is attributed. This fossil was found on 21 October 1907 by the Leimener day laborer Daniel Hartmann when shoveling sand in a sand pit and described by Otto Schoetensack correctly as " präneandertaloid " 1908.

When choosing the name Homo heidelbergensis Schoetensack followed a tradition that the Irish geologist William King had founded in 1864 section of the valley of Düsseldorf called after the discovery of fossil Homo - bone in a " Neanderthal "; He also had a single "human skeleton " as a new species named (Homo neanderthalensis ). Such references to the location of individual fossils selected, for example, in the 1920s and Arthur Smith Woodward (Homo rhodesiensis ) and Davidson Black ( Sinanthropus pekinensis) in the 1930s Fritz Berckhemer (Homo steinheimensis ) and after repeated bones found in Java in the 1940s - years Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald ( Meganthropus javanicus ); the youngest member of this chain of tradition is Homo floresiensis.

However, the name Homo heidelbergensis remained until the 1980s into it - if at all - only on the lower jaw of Mauer -related. This changed only after several others, comparable to old fossils discovered and their anatomical similarity was detected.

To distinguish it from other species of the genus Homo

1974 saw Chris Stringer, that the fossil Petralona 1 ( from Greece) and the so-called Broken Hill Skull from Zambia significantly different from the Neanderthal finds. 1981 two researchers analyzed the complex attributable to the Cromer mammalian fossils from the Fund layer of the fossil Petralona 1 and noticed that they exhibit striking similarities with the mammalian remains from wall. 1983 published Chris Stringer finally a study in which he on several common features of the skull Petralona 1 (" Archanthropus europeaus petraloniensis " ), the lower jaw of Mauer, the skull Arago XXI from France (Homo erectus tautavelensis ) and the Broken Hill Skull ( Homo rhodesiensis ) pointed out. At the same time Stringer expressed the belief that these findings are to the common base of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans, regarded as a separate species and therefore - could be called Homo heidelbergensis - in accordance with the convention that the oldest name is valid.

In the following years also the above internationally largely uniform type mappings to the genus Homo made ​​younger fossils of several research groups have been challenged. This related to a Neanderthal man, who had been until then Homo sapiens neanderthalensis and thus called as a subspecies of Homo sapiens next to the anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) stood. The Neanderthals of the status of a separate species has now been awarded (Homo neanderthalensis ), as well as the modern man (Homo sapiens) - a change in the naming conventions that prevailed internationally in the 1990s. The differences between the Neanderthal and his Vorläuferart (later European Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis ) " is best indicated as a change over time of a lineage. Some fragmentary finds ( for example Biache Saint -Vaast, Arras arrondissement in France) you can assign two types even without further notice. "

At the same objections to the definition of the taxon Homo erectus were expressed mainly by U.S. researchers, which included findings from Asia, Africa and Europe since the 1950s. Of these researchers, " this comprehensive taxon from chronological and geographical considerations was split "; Homo erectus has since been reported by these researchers " as representative of a specific East Asian lineage ". The oldest until then to Homo erectus made ​​African fossils are referred to by these researchers as Homo ergaster, the younger as Homo heidelbergensis. According to this convention, Homo ergaster developed in Africa to Homo heidelbergensis continued while emigrated from Africa to Asia, groups of Homo ergaster evolved in Asia to Homo erectus. This convention has been proposed, for example, 2008, by Bernard Wood, of it - as 25 years earlier Chris Stringer - Homo heidelbergensis also interpreted as the last common ancestor of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.

This convention has been, however, not been accepted internationally, so that - will be provided to completely different types of certain fossils - depending on the preference of the individual authors. It has even been argued that even this convention still much to be different looking fossils can pool to one species. The British paleoanthropologist Leslie Aiello was quoted example in the journal Science, the so- defined Homo heidelbergensis it were a " garbage-can taxon "; she suggested, reserving the species Homo heidelbergensis European fossils and to raise the African descendants of Homo ergaster to a not yet specified type. As a result, discovered in Africa immediate ancestors of Homo sapiens has been proposed, among other things, secede from Homo heidelbergensis and Homo rhodesiensis to be called, but this proposal has so far not enforced internationally.

Mainly European, but also some U.S. research groups are therefore to this day - with minor modifications - to the fact that Homo erectus is a comprehensive taxon, which at least Asian and African fossils can be assigned. Your interpretation of the known fossils, according to is Homo erectus evolved from Homo ergaster in Africa and emigrated both to Asia and to Europe. In Europe, the descendants of these emigrants have finally developed into Neanderthals.

Some of these researchers designated from time to time, the findings of so-called pre- Neanderthals ( = "pre- Neanderthal "; European fossils that are older than 200,000 years) than local, European subspecies of Homo erectus; Examples are the names Homo erectus and Homo erectus tautavelensis bilzingslebensis. This assignment of the fossils had the consequence that also the lower jaw of Homo erectus heidelbergensis wall as indicated and was therefore completely omitted by these researchers on the species name Homo heidelbergensis. Enforced but recently has also these researchers the doctrine according to which the early European descendants of African emigrants - and only those - as Homo heidelbergensis are called. This position can be seen for example from the database of the Human Evolution Research Center ( Berkeley ), assigns the next to a very old find from Israel exclusively European discoveries of the species Homo heidelbergensis.



Most remains of Homo heidelbergensis are very incomplete fragments of skulls and mandibles. The most revealing European discoveries of the era of Homo heidelbergensis los Huesos originate from the Sima de, a cave near Burgos in Spain. Your age is given at least 530,000 years. However, the Spanish explorers say the least, the oldest finds from this cave - whose age is estimated at " about 650,000 years " - as a separate species (Homo antecessor ); this special position is not recognized internationally.

A particularly strong indicator applies the Atapuerca skull -5 ( " Miguelón " ), which attributed an age 300000-500000 years and is also provided by the Spanish paleoanthropologist Ana Gracia Téllez to Homo heidelbergensis. To him can be seen through the eye sockets clearly a transitory Überaugenwulst, which has over the nose a downward deflection. Because of the broad nasal bridge, the eye sockets are quite far apart. Nose and jaw occur - a snout equal - in relation to the cheekbones clearly. The forehead is lower than in the later Neanderthals. Characteristic of Homo heidelbergensis is also a large upper and lower jaw, with - may have found a gap behind the third molars, in which a further tooth would still fit - as in the type specimen from the wall and in Neandertals.

The average brain volume of ten skulls discovered in Spain " is 1274 cm ³ ³ at a fluctuation range 1116-1450 cm. Thus, it is slightly smaller than in Neanderthals and modern humans " The bone below the neck, however, is so far only poorly understood. Though numerous bone fragments were recovered, nowhere associated remains of a single individual but there have been discovered. Estimates based on 27 long bones from Sima de los Huesos the revealed for Homo heidelbergensis a height of about 164 cm, the men may have been slightly larger than the females.

As secured, according to a review article from 2010 also that teeth and bones of the relatively gracile mandible fragment Arago XXIII from the cave of Arago share unique morphological features with the powerful lower jaw of Mauer and that all finds from this cave represent a single hominin group. Thus, the spread of Homo heidelbergensis over a large area of Europe regarded as certain. In this study, however, also points out that not all share similar fossils of this era unique features with the holotype from wall. The variability of the anatomical features could also mean that 600000-300000 two homo- types could be defined before today.

Analysis of mitochondrial DNA

Caused a stir in late 2013, a genetic findings from the Sima de los Huesos. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology succeeded mitochondrial DNA ( mtDNA) from a thigh bone (femur XIII) to win, whose age was estimated from the molecular clock to around 400,000 years. DNA sequencing of these mt- DNA showed a high degree of commonality with the mtDNA of the Denisova people whose existence until then was only known by a few finds from the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia. Also based on the molecular clock was concluded that the population to which belonged to the former owner of the femur 300,000 years earlier common ancestor with the Denisova people. The head of the mtDNA study, Matthias Meyer, suspected, therefore, that the Spanish population of Homo had heidelbergensis an ancestral population, " which later became both the Neanderthals and the Denisova people have emerged. " Chris Stringer mentioned in this context, that designated by Spanish explorers as Homo antecessor, much older findings could be considered as candidates for such Ancestry population in question.


From Homo heidelbergensis numerous stone tools are known, among other things, for the cutting of meat served, but also for editing of animal hides and wood. Jewelry objects have been discovered, however, have not.

" Scratches in the enamel of the upper and lower incisors, which may have occurred in the jaw is closed can, for the Homo heidelbergensis from Sima de los Huesos suggest that he held material to the teeth and then severed with stone tools. Most such scratches extending to the tooth surface from the top left to bottom right; so you can assume that most individuals from Sima de los Huesos were right-handed. " on finds from the cave of Arago at Tautavel in southern France, the wear of the teeth was examined microscopically. The results pointed to a rough food, which consisted of at least 80 percent plant shares - equivalent to about food composition, as is common even in today's hunters and gatherers.

In the lignite mine of Schoningen (Lower Saxony) and a wooden spears pointed at both ends throwing wood were found that Homo heidelbergensis be assigned; with other methods - - for this Schöninger spears an age of about 400,000 years, but also was attended by around 270,000 years published. The Schöninger spears are mainly made of pine wood and up to 2.5 m long. Because the center of gravity, they should have been used as javelins. The spears were on a hunting camp among the remains of at least 15 horses. It can therefore be assumed that Homo heidelbergensis was already using the big-game hunting for food. The careful processing of the spears suggests a well-developed culture of tool manufacture. Very similar findings were made during the Palaeolithic Site Bilzingsleben. In addition wooden spears a camp site was excavated with simple residential buildings and a central cobbled square. In addition, they found a piece of bone with regular incised patterns. Although it is not known why these bones served, it can be rated as an indication of the capacity for abstract thinking. Cut marks on the bones show that he abschabte meat from the bones. In addition, wooden stocks for stone blades, first Kompositwerkzeuge were found.

500,000 years old stone artifacts from South Africa in 2012 were interpreted as spear points and also Homo heidelbergensis attributed; However, the assignment of such homo- old finds from Africa is controversial to Homo heidelbergensis, as they are reported by other researchers as Homo erectus.

Known sites and their age

The finds of Homo heidelbergensis mostly come from limestone caves and quarries, as well as isolated from former river beds. The localities lie consistently below 1000 m altitude in Spain, France, England, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Greece as well as in Israel and Morocco. In England the population died during the freezing phases of the Middle Pleistocene of probably.

As early as 1907 it was found in a quarry near Weimar- Ehringsdorf a mandible and 1908 fragments of a human skull, which can be put to Homo heidelbergensis today.

The best known localities whose fossils are dated to be safe and may also be asked to Homo heidelbergensis, are:

  • Age determination by absolute dating Sierra de Atapuerca, Sima de los Huesos (Spain ), 600000-400000 years ( Sima del Elefante and Gran Dolina Homo antecessor = )
  • Mala Balanica Cave 500,000 - 400,000 years
  • Vértesszőlős (Hungary ) 500,000 - 350,000 years
  • Bilzingsleben ( Thuringia) 400,000 - 300,000 years
  • Ehringsdorf ( Thuringia), 250000-200000 years ( Neanderthal )
  • Cave of Petralona (Greece ) 250,000 - 150,000 years
  • Construction de l' Aubesier ( near Avignon, France), 190,000 years
  • Age determination by relative dating Ceprano (southeast of Rome), 880,000 (?) - 460,000 years ( = Homo cepranensis )
  • Boxgrove Quarry ( at Boxgrove, England), 500,000 years
  • Cave of Arago ( "Man of Tautavel ", Southern France), 450,000 years
  • Quarry Thomas ( in Casablanca, Morocco), 400,000 years
  • Swanscombe Skull ( Borough of Dartford, England ), about 400,000 years
  • Montmaurin (Canton of Boulogne- sur- Gesse, Southern France) 300,000 - 200,000 years
  • Zuttiyeh Cave ( West Bank) 250,000 year
  • Steinheim an der Murr ( Baden- Württemberg) 250,000 year ( = Homo steinheimensis )
  • Casal de ' Pazzi ( in Rome) 250,000 - 200,000 years
  • Reilingen (Baden- Württemberg) 250,000 - 125,000 years
  • Grotte du military hospital ( in Nice, southern France ), 200,000 years

Bernard Wood located in a 2008 review article also various fossils from China to Homo heidelbergensis, the findings from Dali ( 300000-200000 years), Jinniushan ( about 200,000 years), Xujiayao (about 100,000 years) and Yunxian ( 600000-300000 Jahre ). Chris Stringer, however, pointed out in 2012 that the finds from Dali, Jinniushan, Yunxian and a find from Narmada in India are possibly attributable to the Denisova people.

From when to when there was a fossil species, however, can only be approximated in most cases. For one, the fossil record is patchy: there are usually very few copies for a fossil Article On the other hand, the dating methods, although a certain age from, but this with a significant inaccuracy; this inaccuracy then forms the outer limits in the "from ... to " information for lifetimes. All published age data are therefore preliminary datings, which also claimed the discovery of more copies may need to be revised.