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Human Evolution. Dubois discovers Java Man: Homo erectus

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In 1891, Eugene Dubois discovers the Java Man: Homo erectus

Eugene Dubois (1858-1940) was a Dutch geologist who knew that many fossils of mammals dating between 1 and 2 million years had already been found in Indonesia.

Since Indonesia lies in the tropics and Dubois assumed that our ancestors lived in the tropics, he decided the islands were the perfect candidates for preserving what he believed was the missing link: a hypothetical intermediate species between humans and apes. He joined the Dutch army and managed to be posted to the island of Java with his wife and baby. He survived all the typical diseases of the tropics while digging for the remains of what he was sure he would eventually find.

Against all odds, in 1891, he found a molar tooth. Two months later he found a skull too large to belong to a chimpanzee but too small to be a human skull. Later he found a femur that had belonged to an individual who undoubtedly had been bipedal.

The Java Man, the nickname given to the specimen, became the first hominid fossil ever to be found in the world. The theory that Homo sapiens had appeared in Asia became stronger after this discovery. Dubois named the species Pithecanthropus erectus and tried to convince the scientific world that it was an intermediate species between apes and humans. Unfortunately, this turned out to be even more difficult than finding the fossil.

He never succeeded, and died in the Netherlands depressed, isolated and resentful.

Today we know that the Java Man remains belong to Homo erectus and date between 0.8 to 1.2 million years. We also know that Erectus evolved in Africa about 2 million years ago, that some groups migrated to Asia and Europe and even survived there until about 250 thousand years ago.

Paleontologists today believe that their descendants are the Hobbits, Homo floresiensis, the remains recently found on the island of Flores in Indonesia, who survived until 13 thousand years ago.

We also know that Homo erectus is a descendant of Homo habilis and that some Erectus are the ancestors of Homo sapiens.

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