Homo heidelbergensis ("Heidelberg Man", named after the University of Heidelberg) is an extinct species of the genus Homo which may be the direct ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis in Europe and Homo sapiens. The best evidence found for these hominin date between 600,000 and 400,000 years ago. H. heidelbergensis stone tool technology was very close to that of the Acheulean tools used by Homo erectus.
Morphology and interpretations
In theory recent findings in Atapuerca (Spain) also suggest that H. heidelbergensis may have been the first species of the Homo genus to bury their dead, even offering gifts.
Some experts believe that H. heidelbergensis, like its descendant H. neanderthalensis, acquired a primitive form of language. No forms of art or sophisticated artifacts other than stone tools have been uncovered, although red ochre, a mineral that can be used to create a red pigment which is useful as a paint, has been found at Terra Amata excavations in the south of France.
The morphology of the outer and middle ear suggests they had an auditory sensitivity similar to modern humans and very different from chimpanzees. They were probably able to differentiate between many different sounds. Dental wear analysis suggests they were as likely to be right handed as modern people.
H. heidelbergensis was a close relative (most probably a migratory descendant) of Homo ergaster. H. ergaster is thought to be the first hominin to vocalize and that as H. heidelbergensis developed more sophisticated culture proceeded from this point.
Evidence of hunting
A number of 400,000-year-old wooden projectile spears were found at Schöningen in northern Germany. These are thought to have been made by H. erectus or H. heidelbergensis. Generally, projectile weapons are more commonly associated with H. sapiens. The lack of projectile weaponry is an indication of different sustenance methods, rather than inferior technology or abilities. The situation is identical to that of native New Zealand Māori, modern H. sapiens, who also rarely threw objects, but used spears and clubs instead.
Homo neanderthalensis retained most of the features of H. heidelbergensis after its divergent evolution. Though shorter, Neanderthals were more robust, had large brow-ridges, a slightly protruding face and lack of prominent chin. They also had a larger brain than all other hominins. Homo sapiens, on the other hand, have the smallest brows of any known hominin, are tall and lanky, and have a flat face with a protruding chin. H. sapiens have a larger brain than H. heidelbergensis, and a smaller brain than H. neanderthalensis, on average. To date, H. sapiens is the only known hominin with a high forehead, flat face, and thin, flat brows.
Some believe that H. heidelbergensis is a distinct species, and some that it is a cladistic ancestor to other Homo forms sometimes improperly linked to distinct species in terms of populational genetics.
Some scenarios of survival include
H heidelbergensis > H. neanderthalensis
Those supporting a multiregional origin of modern humans envision fertile reproduction between many evolutionary stages and homo walking, or gene transfer between adjacent populations due to gene passage and spreading in successive generations.
The next H. heidelbergensis remains were found in Steinheim an der Murr, Germany (the Steinheim Skull, 350kya); Arago, France (Arago 21); Petralona, Greece; and Ciampate del Diavolo, Italy.
In 1994 British scientists unearthed a lower hominin tibia bone just a few miles away from the English Channel, along with hundreds of ancient hand axes, at the Boxgrove Quarry site. A partial leg bone is dated to between 478,000 and 524,000 years old. H. heidelbergensis was the early proto-human species that occupied both France and Great Britain at that time; both locales were connected by a landmass during that epoch. Prior to Gran Dolina, Boxgrove offered the earliest hominid occupants in Europe.
The tibia had been gnawed by a large carnivore, suggesting that he had been killed by a lion or wolf or that his unburied corpse had been scavenged after death.
Sima de los Huesos
Beginning in 1992, a Spanish team has located more than 5,500 human bones dated to an age of at least 350,000 years in the Sima de los Huesos site in the Sierra de Atapuerca in northern Spain. The pit contains fossils of perhaps 28 individuals together with remains of Ursus deningeri and other carnivores and a biface called Excalibur. It is hypothesized that this Acheulean axe made of red quartzite was some kind of ritual offering for a funeral. Ninety percent of the known H. heidelbergensis remains have been obtained from this site. The fossil pit bones include:
A complete cranium (Skull 5), nicknamed Miguelón, and fragments of other craniums, such as Skull 4, nicknamed Agamenón and skull 6, nicknamed Rui (from El Cid, a local hero).
Indeed, nearby sites contain the only known and controversial Homo antecessor fossils.
In 2005 flint tools and teeth from the water vole Mimomys savini, a key dating species, were found in the cliffs at Pakefield near Lowestoft in Suffolk. This suggests that hominins can be dated in England to 700,000 years ago, potentially a cross between Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis.
^ Mounier,Aurélien; François Marchal and Silvana Condemi "Is Homo heidelbergensis a distinct species? New insight on the Mauer mandible" Journal of Human Evolution Volume 56, Issue 3, March 2009, Pages 219-246 
Sauer, A. (1985). Erläuterungen zur Geol. Karte 1 : 25 000 Baden-Württ.. Stuttgart.
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