Origins: the last homo erectus

Glenn Morton (
Fri, 13 Dec 1996 21:58:16

An article was published today in Science, C. C. Swisher III, W. J. Rink,=
C.Ant=F3n, H. P. Schwarcz, G. H. Curtis, A. Suprijo, Widiasmoro, "Latest=
erectus of Java: Potential Contemporaneity with Homo sapiens in Southeast
Asia" Science Volume 274, Number 5294, Issue of 13 December 1996, pp.
1870-1874. This article presents evidence that Homo erectus lived as lat=
e as
27,000 years ago in Java. This presents an interesting situation relevan=
t to
my claim that homo erectus engaged in human behavior and was indeed as h=
as you or I. =20

Here is the present situation with regard to who inhabited Australia:

" In Africa and the Near East, H. sapiens first appear in the
fossil record around 100 ka (52), and in mainland Asia perhaps by 67 ka(4=
On Java, the oldest known H. sapiens date to less than 10 ka (53); howeve=
evidence elsewhere in Southeast Asia indicates that H. sapiens arrived mu=
earlier. Early H. sapiens date to about 30 ka in Australia (54) and possi=
to 40 ka in Malaysia (55), whereas archaeological remains attributed to H.
sapiens occur as early as 40 ka in New Guinea (56) and 50 ka (or greater)=
Australia (17, 57).The temporal and spatial overlap between H. erectus an=
d H.
sapiens in Southeast Asia, as implied by our study, is reminiscent of the
overlap of Neandertals (H. neanderthalensis) (58) and anatomically modern
humans (H. sapiens) in Europe (59).~C. C. Swisher III, W. J. Rink, S. C.
Ant=F3n, H. P. Schwarcz, G. H. Curtis, A. Suprijo, Widiasmoro, "Latest Ho=
erectus of Java: Potential Contemporaneity with Homo sapiens in Southeast
Asia" Science Volume 274, Number 5294, Issue of 13 December 1996, pp.

There is the recent discovery of the 75,000+ year age of the art work at =
Bahn reports,

Jinmium Australia
"Lower layers of sediment nearby, containing ochre and stone artefacts, h=
likewise been dated to 116,000+/- 12,000 years ago, and even 176,000+/-16=
years for a layer just below one object."~Paul G. Bahn, "Further Back Dow=
Under," Nature, Oct 17, 1996, p. 577

Putting these two thing together leads to the conclusion that, based upon=
evidence, the settlement of Australia was not accomplished by H. sapiens,=
but by=20
H. erectus, since the earliest Asian sapiens is dated at 6
7,000 years ago. And should the earlest date of 176,000 years hold up, it=
mean that Australia was occupied prior to the appearance of H. sapiens.

This early date is supported by oceanic pollen record. Bahn reports,

"As for the colonization of Australia, it was only in the 1960s that
firm evidence was found for human occupation during the Pleistocene, befo=
about 10,000 years ago; since then, the date has been steadily pushed bac=
always in the face of enormous sceptisim. The currently accepted arrival=
is up to 60,000 years ago, yet over the past decade there have been stron=
claims from pollen studies for a far earlier date. Sediment cores from L=
George, New South Wales, revealed a period around 130,000 years ago when =
was a sudden increase in destructive brush fires, reflected in greatly
increased quantities of charcoal, and coinciding with a sudden and dramat=
change in vegetation --the first for 750,000 years--when fire-sensitive
forests began to be replaced by fire-tolerant eucalyptus and by grasses.
"That was challenged by archaeologists, who assigned this vegetation
change to only 60,000-54,000 years ago, using a simple correlation of age=
depth in the lake cores. But support for the early dates has come from
similar pollen and charcoal evidence, dated to about 140,000 years ago, i=
n a
400-metre marine core on the continental shelf off the Queensland coast; =
core spans 1.5 million years, and, unlike Lake George, its upper part is =
dated. The decline of forest and rise of charcoal particles form the most
dramatic change in the whle core, and have been tentatively attributed to
human colonization."~Paul G. Bahn, "Further Back Down Under," Nature, Oct=
1996, p. 577-578, p. 578

This further means as Bahn notes,

"One of the stumbling blocks to accepting an early colonization has
always been that, because Australia was never attached to Asia, even at t=
lowest sea levels of the Ice Age a journey there required an ocean voyage=
at least 70 km. But now the discovery of a stone-tool industry on the
Indonesian island of Flores, in a layer dated by palaeomagnetism to about
700,000 years ago, has provided good evidence for open-sea voyages by H.
erectus, so there can be no question that whoever colonized Australia was
capable of such a journey, even 176,000 years ago."~Paul G. Bahn, "Furthe=
Back Down Under," Nature, Oct 17, 1996, p. 577-578, p. 578

We also know that H. erectus engaged in wood work from microanalysis of t=
wear on the tools AND the discovery of a polished wooden plank from that =
period.(S. Belitszky et al, "A Middle Pleistocene Wooden Plank with
man-made Polish," Journal of Human Evolution, 1991, 20:349-353.)

Now, if H. erectus and H. sapiens lived togather for 10-30,000 years,=20
there would be opportunity for interbreeding. The interesting thing is=20
that Australian aborigines show several skeletal traits which resemble=20
the Java form of Homo erectus. Consider this,

"On his trip, Woploff pored over the museum drawers of four continen=
and found nothing to alter his faith until one day in a laboratory in Jav=
a he
held in his hands a recent discovery from the site of Sangiran, where the
Dutchman G. H.R. von Koenigswald had worked forty years before. Called
Sangiran 17, the new find was the most complete Homo erectus skull yet
discovered. But in spite of its importance, a long-standing feud between=
Javanese investigators --both of them famous for guarding their fossils l=
jealous lovers--had kept the skull largely hidden from sight. Given a
privileged peek at it, Wolpoff was surprised to see that the face had bee=
attached to the skull with rubber bands, so that it swung in and out, as =
if it
were hinged onto the cranium at the forehead. Fossils are hard enough to
interpret when their features are fixed in place; a speciment with movabl=
anatomy is impossible to pin down.
"'I saw this thing, as badly reconstructed as it was,' Wolpoff
remembered, 'and I said,"Look, can I take a crack at redoing this?"'
"Instead of using rubber bands Wopoff built a framework of toothpick=
and in a couple of hours he had the face glued in place. He let the glue=
for another half hour and only then picked up the specimen and turned it =
profile. 'I nearly dropped dead. Instead of being just another erectus, =
was this great big, hyper-robust Australian aborigine. I knew at that mo=
that Thorne was right, and I was wrong.
"What astonished Wolpoff was the fossil's face, especially the way i=
projected out from the skull. Once he had completed the toothpick,
reconstruction, he could see that the jutting face was unlike anything he=
seen in erectus specimens from africa or among the Peking Man casts in Be=
where he had been just days before. Though some 700,000 years old, the f=
eerily resembled those of far younger, modern human fossils from Australi=
The 'robust' Australian sapiens were as modern in brain size as any in th=
world, but they showed the same facial projection--big browridges, thick =
sloping foreheads, and heavy molars--that Wolpoff saw in Sangiran 17. Ma=
living Australian aborigines carry the same traits today."
"Decades before, Weidenreich had suggested a connection between the
erectus fossils of Java and modern Australian aborigines. But Weidenreic=
h had
only skullcaps to work from, like those of Solo Man from Ngandong. In th=
e face
of Sangiran, Wolpoff saw the missing anchor to Weidenreich's Australian
lineaage. Another researcher had suggested that the anatomy of Australia=
aborigines bore 'the mark of ancient Java.' For Wolpoff, Sangiran was stu=
proof. In their arguments, Alan Thorne had been trying to convince Wolpo=
that regional features would appear first at the remote edges of the homi=
range, farthest away from the African birthplace of the earlist hominids.=
here sat Sangiran 17, three quarters of a million years old and about as =
from the African 'center' as one could get--but already full-fledged nati=
Australasian."~James R. Shreeve, The Neandertal Enigma, (New York: Willia=
Morrow and Co., 1995), p. 102-103

While this study does destroy one particular view of the regional continu=
theory in which two fossils were viewed as intermediate and now can not b=
e so=20
viewed, the late date of H. erectus on Java gives an excellent reason for=
the cranial similarities between Asian erectus and modern man.

Like similar evidence for interbreeding between Neanderthal and modern ma=
in Europe, this new work explains a lot.

Swisher et al conclude,

"Rather,our ages for Ngandong and Sambungmacan
indicate that H. erectus persisted in Southeast Asia into the latest
Pleistocene overlapping in time with H. sapiens and raise the possibility=
features shared by the two species are either homoplastic or the result o=
gene flow(51)."C. C. Swisher III, W. J. Rink, S. C.
Ant=F3n, H. P. Schwarcz, G. H. Curtis, A. Suprijo, Widiasmoro, "Latest Ho=
erectus of Java: Potential Contemporaneity with Homo sapiens in Southeast
Asia" Science Volume 274, Number 5294, Issue of 13 December 1996, pp.


Foundation,Fall and Flood