Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pithecanthropus erectus named by Dutch physician Eugène Dubois after discovery of fossil remains on Java

The extinct hominid species Pithecanthropus erectus is known today as Homo erectus [1]. Fossilized bones of this species were found in the early 1890s by workers of Eugène Dubois, a Dutch Army medical officer, who searched for fossils in Java: the primate fossils including teeth, a lower jaw and an intact skullcap became known as Java Man [2].

Dubois published the discovery and a description of the fossils, which showed features between those of ape and human bones. He named the species associated with the fossil remains Pithecanthropus erectus: Pithecanthropus is derived from Greek and means “ape man.” The anthropologist H. L. Shapiro writes that “erectus was added [to the early scientific name] because the femur found near the skullcap was indistinguishable from that of modern man, its form and size indicating clearly that it was fully adapted for upright posture and a two-legged gait” [3]. However, it was disputed by some scholars if skull and femur came from the same individual.

The Java Man discovery triggered various speculations about human evolution via apes and man-apes. Following discoveries in China (Peking Man) and South Africa added further puzzle pieces to the study of human ancestry. Our understanding of links and dead-ends in the tree of man's and woman's evolution is far from complete and new discoveries may result in new branches and re-charted trees—progressively between ape-like and human. 

Keywords: anthropology, archaeology, primates, anatomy, human evolution, nomenclature, systematics.

References and more to explore
[1] The FreeDictionary >  Pithecanthropus erectus - former genus of primitive apelike men now Homo erectus: www.thefreedictionary.com/Pithecanthropus+erectus.
[2] Fossil Hominids FAQ at the talk.origins Archive > Biographies: Eugene Dubois: www.talkorigins.org/faqs/homs/edubois.html.
[3] Harry L. Shapiro: Peking Man. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974; pp. 29-32.

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