I hope this won’t be too much of a rant, because I really appreciate the role that those homo erectus folks played in our evolution. They not only migrated from Africa all the way to eastern Asia and parts of the Middle East nearly 2 million years ago, but, as far as we can tell, they figured out how to effectively use stone tools, they taught their children & others how to use them, they figured out how to keep the fire going, they started preserving & cooking food, & they lived in small, cooperative groups - all of which enhanced their chances of surviving the unknowns they faced in these new environments. These folks seem alot like us – or at least alot like how humans lived for thousands of years.
I’m using the term homo erectus here as a generalization of a group of now-variously-classified early hominin species which start to appear in the fossil record a little more than 2 mya. These primates had longer legs than their australopithicine ancestors (see my last post), which significantly increased the efficiency of their two-legged, bipedal mode of walking; they were about our size and stature; and their arms and hands were no longer about swinging through the trees, but rather about dexterity and adaptability. There’s also evidence that they cared for members of their group who were old &/or weak (yeah, that resonates…). These various kinds of homo erectus are the longest-living species on the human family tree – their kind lived ten times longer than our human primate species has survived (so far).
So I just wanna ask – where are the homo erectus dolls? Where are the action figures? Where are the storybooks, games & dvd’s? OK, I found a National Lampoon movie, a Kinky Friedman song, & a bunch videos which are either informative but dull, in Spanish, or…well, see my point below. Really, is that all we have to show for our debt to this incredibly successful early homo species from whom we are all – generally speaking – descended? There’s no shortage of dinosaur paraphernalia & they’re just the ancient ancestors of birds! It’s shameful. How can we have been so blind to this problem?
It’s all in the name! I know I know, homo is Latin for ‘man’ & erectus is Latin for ‘upright’, & for some reason scientists feel like its important to hang onto the tradition of naming everything under the sun in that old, not-spoken-by-anyone-anymore European language. But we need to understand the consequences here: no one would give their child or anyone else’s child anything with the name ‘homo erectus’.
So here’s the challenge: let’s think of a new, common name for these folks (though cave man or The Flintstones probably isn’t what we’re looking for at this point). Let’s popularize the current general agreement among scientists about what they looked like & how they spent their daily lives. Maybe someone will then be inspired to make a fun & warmly engaging video (with a cute cat) about their adventures 2 million years ago as they moved north and east along the coast of Africa and Asia, & maybe it will go viral on YouTube! It could spawn a whole new generation of happy meals. It’s gotta happen.