|Homo erectus (upright man)|
Homo erectus is a hominid species that is believed to be an ancestor of modern humans. The species is found from the middle Pleistocene onwards. It had fairly modern human features, with a larger cranial capacity than that of Homo habilis. The forehead is less sloping and the teeth are smaller. 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 humans were tall, on average standing about 1.78 m (5 feet, 10 inches) tall.
Homo erectus also used more diverse and sophisticated tools than its predecessors. One theory is that H. erectus first used tools of the Oldowan style and then later used tools of the Acheulean style. The surviving tools from both periods are all made of stone. Oldowan tools are the oldest known formed tools and date as far back as about 2.4 million years ago. The Acheulean era began about 1.2 million years ago and ended about 500,000 years ago. The primary innovation associated with Acheulean handaxes is that the stone was chipped on both sides to form two cutting edges.
Homo erectus (along with Homo ergaster) was probably the first early human to fit squarely into the category of a hunter and predator and not as prey for larger animals. Early man, in the person of Homo erectus, was learning to master his environment for the first time.
There is some dispute as to whether H. erectus was able to control fire. However, the earliest (least disputed) evidence of controlled fire is around 300,000 years old and comes from a site called Terra Amata, which lies on an ancient beach location on the French Riviera. This site seems to have been occupied by Homo erectus. There are older Homo erectus sites that seem to indicate the controlled use of fire, some dating back 500,000 to 1.5 million years ago, in France, China, and other areas. A discovery brought forth at the Paleoanthropology Society Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada in March of 2004 stated that controlled fires have been evidenced in excavations in Northern Israel from about 690,000 to 790,000 years ago. Regardless, it can at least be surmised that the controlled use of fire was atypical of Homo erectus until its decline and the rise of more advanced species of the Homo genus came to the forefront.