The lifeways of homo erectus inferred from archaeology and evolutionary ecology: A perspective from East Africa

Susan Cachel, J. W.K. Harris

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


The goal of this chapter is to examine the biology and behaviour of Homo erectus, sensu lato, and to re-evaluate the niche structure of this taxon. During this process, the origin, dispersal properties, geographic spread and evolutionary ecology of this species will be discussed. There is a great deal of variability within the hypodigm of this species, as broadly defined. Researchers have long argued about whether this variability reflects the existence of more than one species (e.g. Le Gros Clark 1964; Howell 1978; Howells 1980; Tattersall 1986, 1992; Rightmire 1990, 1996). Alternatively, some researchers, whilst recognizing the strikingly polytypic nature of the fossil material, see no distinct boundary line between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens, and inveigh against the continued use of the taxon Homo erectus (Wolpoff et al. 1994). Many physical anthropologists approach morphological variability as if it were merely a vexing problem that obscures the taxonomic allocation of fossil specimens. Many archaeologists approach behavioural variability merely by continuing to debate about lithic typologies and the definition of stone tool industries and their boundaries. Yet, natural selection on morphology and behaviour cannot occur without population-level variability, and the assessment of shifting variability through time may allow palaeoanthropologists to trace the activity of natural selection and other evolutionary processes. Hence, our emphasis here on evolutionary ecology leads us to recognize that morphological and behavioural variability in time and space are themselves data, and that these data can contribute to a fuller understanding of how evolution has affected fossil hominid populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEarly Human Behaviour in Global Context
Subtitle of host publicationThe Rise and Diversity of the Lower Palaeolithic Record
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)0203203275, 9781134828562
ISBN (Print)0415117631, 9780415514958
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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