What was Homo Heidelbergensis?

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Homo heidelbergensis lived 400,000 years ago and is a direct ancestor of modern humans. They were one of the first hominids to venture out of Africa and into Europe, forming large social groups and exhibiting evidence of cultural rituals. Homo heidelbergensis evolved into modern humans and Neanderthals, with DNA studies indicating they were distinct but related. Fossil examples can be seen in museums and studying them provides insight into human origins.

Homo heidelbergensis was a hominin species that lived approximately 400,000 years ago, and the most recent archaeological evidence suggests that these early humans were the direct ancestors of modern humans. They certainly had much in common with modern humans, although some very clear morphological differences distinguished them from Homo sapiens. Most of the finds of Homo heidelbergensis have taken place in Europe, but fossil remains from other regions of the world have also been classified in this species.

Scientists believe that Homo heidelbergensis is descended from Homo ergaster, another ancient hominin. Homo heidelbergensis appears to have been one of the first hominids to venture out of Africa and into Europe, following in the footsteps of Homo erectus, and archaeological excavations in several regions of Europe suggest that these hominids formed large social groups. These excavations have unearthed a large number of tools, along with evidence of hunting, fire use and burial practices. Homo heidelbergensis may have been one of the first hominids to bury the dead, and archaeologists have also found evidence of other cultural rituals.

Homo heidelbergensis had a larger brain than other hominin species and a body type that appears to be very similar to that of modern humans, although Homo heidelbergensis was somewhat taller. Homo heidelbergensis was also able to speak. Over time, Homo heidelbergensis evolved into two new species; modern humans and Neanderthals. Modern humans have apparently supplanted the now extinct Neanderthals; DNA studies on both species indicate that the two were certainly distinct from each other, although related through their common Homo heidelbergensis ancestry.

These hominids are named after Heidelberg, Germany, a city that is near the location of the first Homo heidelbergensis find, a jawbone discovered in a sand pit. The jaw was classified by Otto Schoetensack as a completely new hominid species, which caused quite a stir in the archaeological community, with some people arguing that naming a new species on the basis of only one jaw was a bit ambitious. However, later discoveries across Europe have supported the idea that Homo heidelbergensis was a distinct and real hominin species, and the classification is now widely accepted by many archaeologists.

Fossil examples of these human ancestors can be seen on display in several museums around the world, and archaeological digs are discovered more periodically. Studying these fossils helps fill in the gaps in human history, providing more insight into our origins and the lives these early humans led.

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