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Homo Erectus in America?

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Note: This article is high speculation based on the finding that occurred last week of the modification of mastodon bones in Ice Age California. If it is an actual archaeological site, along with being the age it’s purported to be, there are, in my opinion, only two possibilities for who could be responsible: erectus or the Denisova. Though I will cover evidence that Erectus did make it to America between 40-130,000ya, and rule out that Neanderthals are the hominid responsible.

It was discovered last week that there was human activity at an archeological site in San Diego, California, dated to about 130,000 years ago. Researchers discovered pieces of bone and teeth from a mastodon—that looked to have been modified by early humans. This discovery—if it shows that there was a hominid in the Americas 130,000ya—would have us rethink hominin migrations in the ancient past.

The bones and teeth show signs of having been modified by humans with “manual dexterity and experiential knowledge.” The same pattern was discovered in Nebraska and Kansas, where it was ruled out that carnivorous animals were responsible (Holen et al, 2017).

Now, we only have a few pieces of broken bone and some teeth from a mastodon. It is possible that ‘Natives’ dug up the mastodon skull and modified it, but I like to think outside of the box sometimes. When I first read the ScienceDaily article on the matter, the first hominin that popped into my head that could be responsible for this is erectus. But what is the evidence that he could have made it to the Americas that long ago?

Erectus in America

Evidence for erectus in America is scant. We have discovered no erectus skeletons in the Americas, and we only have a few pieces of bone to go off of to guess which hominid did this (and I doubt it was Homo sapiens or Neanderthals, I will explain my reasoning below).

I’ve been documenting on my blog for the past six months that, contrary to popular belief, erectus was not a ‘dumb ape’ and that, in fact, erectus had a lot of modern behaviors. If it turns out to be true that erectus made it to America, that wouldn’t really surprise me.

erectus map

—Erectus territory

neanderthalterrirtory

–Neanderthal territory

Erectus had a wider territory than the other hominid candidates (Neanderthals, Homo sapiens) and the other candidate—the Denisova—were situated more to the middle of the Asian continent. So this, really, leaves us only with erectus as the only possible candidate for the mysterious hominin in Caliofornia—and there is evidence that (albeit, extremely flimsy), erectus may have possibly made it to America, from a paper published back in 1986. Dreier (1986) writes that there is evidence of Man in America before 30kya, and if this is true, then it must be erectus since the estimated dates are between 50-70 kya—right around the time that AMH began migrating out of Africa. Dreier (1986) goes through a few different discoveries that could have been erectus in America, yet they were only modern skeletons. However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. (Though I will return to this specific point near the end of the article.)

How could erectus have possibly made it to America?

This is one of the most interesting things about this whole scenario. There is evidence that erectus made rafts. If erectus did make it to Flores (Stringer, 2004; Hardaker, 2007: 263-268; Lieberman, 2013)—eventually evolving into floresiensis (or from habilis or a shared common ancestor with habilis)—then he must have had the ability to make rafts. Since we have found erectus skulls at Java, and since certain bodily proportions of floresiensis are ‘scaled-down’ from erectus, along with tools that erectus used, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that erectus had the ability to navigate the seas.

One way that hominins can get to America is through the Bering strait. However, Dreier (1986) assumes that erectus was not cold-adapted, and insists that erectus could have only gone into higher latitudes for only a few months out of the year when it was warmer. As you can see from the above map of erectus’ territory, he lived along the coast of China and into some of the islands around SE Asia. While we don’t have any skeletal evidence, we can infer that it was late Asian erectus who, could have possibly, made it to the Americas. So since it was late in erectus’ evolution, we would expect him to have a large brain size in order to 1) survive in Africa and 2) since brain size predicts the success of a species in novel environments (Sol et al, 2008), erectus would have had a larger brain in these locations. So it seems that erectus did have the same adaptability that we do—especially if he actually did make it to the Americas.

Dreier (1986) posits that erectus could have traveled along the Aluetian island chain in Alaska, eating marine life (shells, mollusks, clams, etc), and so he would not have had to “deviate from the 53 north latitude vitamin D barrier drastically since almost the entire Aleutian Island chain falls between the 50 and 55 north latitude lines, and access via this route may have been possible during glaciation when sea levels in the area dropped as much as 100 meters” (Dreier, 1986: 31). Erectus could have gotten vitamin D from shells, mollusks and other marine life, as they are extremely high in vitamin D (Nair and Maseeh, 2012). I will contend that erectus rafted to America, but the Aluetian island route is also plausible.

Dreier (1986) ends up concluding that our best bet for finding erectus skeletons in America is along with Pacific coast, and there may be some submerged underwater. However, with the new discovery last week, I await more work into the site for some more answers (and of course questions).

However, contra Dreier’s (1986) claim that we should stop looking for sites with human activity earlier than 30,000 years, this new finding is promising.

Why not Neanderthals?

Neanderthals were seafarers, just like erectus, and later, us. However, there is evidence for Neanderthals sailing the seas 100kya, however, earlier dates of seafaring activity “as far back as 200 ka BP can not be excluded.” (Ferentinos et al, 2012). Further—and perhaps most importantly—the range of the Neanderthals was nowhere near the Pacific Ocean—whereas erectus was. So since there is little evidence of seafaring 200kya (which cannot be excluded), then we’re still left with the only possibility being erectus go to the Americas either by walking the Aleutian islands or rafting across the Pacific.

Could erectus have killed animals as large as a mastodon?

Erectus was killing elephants (Elephas antiquus) around 400kya in the Levant (Ben-Dor et al, 2011). Then, when the elephants went extinct, erectus had to hunt smaller, quicker game and thus evolved a smaller body to deal with the new environmental pressure—chasing a new food source. So erectus did have the ability to kill an animal that big, another positive sign that this is erectus we are dealing with in California 130,000 years ago.

An erectus skeleton in America?

An osteologist discovered a brow bone in the Americas, and in an unpublished report in 1990, he says the brow’s thickness and structure is comparable to African erectus, with a reanalysis showing it was closer to Asian erectus—just what we would expect since Asian erectus may have been a seafarer (Hardaker, 2007). However, the author of the book reiterates the Texas A&M osteologists’ findings writing: “these comparisons do not imply that preHomo sapiens were in the Americas” (Steen-McIntyre, 2008).

Humanlike cognition in erectus?

Humanlike thinking evolved 1.8 mya, right around the time erectus came into the picture (Putt et al, 2017). Volunteers created Auchulean tools while wearing a wearing a cap that measured brain activity. Visual attention and motor control were needed to create the “simpler Oldowan tools”, whereas for the “more complex Auchelian tools” a “larger portion of the brain was engaged in the creation of the more complex Acheulian tools, including regions of the brain associated with the integration of visual, auditory and sensorimotor information; the guidance of visual working memory; and higher-order action planning.” This discovery pushes back the advent of humanlike congition, since the earliest tools of this nature are found around 1.8 mya. There is a possibility that some erectus may have had IQs near ours, as studies of microcephalics show that a large amount have higher than average IQs (Skoyles, 1999).

Conclusion

Evidence is mounting that erectus was more than the ‘dumb ape’ that some people say he is. If erectus did make it to America—and the possibility is there—then human migratory patterns need to be rewritten. I hope there is more evidence pointing to what hominid was in the area at that time—and if there is evidence of humanlike activity there, it most likely is erectus. It is extremely possible that erectus could have gotten to America, as there is evidence that he was at least in northern China. So he could have sailed to the Americas or walked along the Aluetian islands.

The evidence for erectus in America is compelling, and I hope more is discovered about what went on at this site and who was there. Even if it wasn’t erectus, there is still some compelling evidence that he did make it to America.

References

Ben-Dor, M., Gopher, A., Hershkovitz, I., & Barkai, R. (2011). Man the Fat Hunter: The Demise of Homo erectus and the Emergence of a New Hominin Lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca. 400 kyr) Levant. PLoS ONE,6(12). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028689

Dreier, Frederick G., (1986). Homo Erectus in America: Possibilities and problems. Lambda Alpha Journal of Man, v.17, no.1-2, 1985-1986. Citing: Gifford, E.W., (1926). California Anthropometry. University of California Publications in Archaeology and Ethnology.22:217-390

Ferentinos, G., Gkioni, M., Geraga, M., & Papatheodorou, G. (2012). Early seafaring activity in the southern Ionian Islands, Mediterranean Sea. Journal of Archaeological Science,39(7), 2167-2176. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.01.032

Hardaker, C. (2007). The first American: the suppressed story of the people who discovered the New World. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, a division of The Career Press.

Holen, S. R., Deméré, T. A., Fisher, D. C., Fullagar, R., Paces, J. B., Jefferson, G. T., . . . Holen, K. A. (2017). A 130,000-year-old archaeological site in southern California, USA. Nature,544(7651), 479-483. doi:10.1038/nature22065

Lieberman, D. (2013). The Story of the human body – evolution, health and disease. Penguin.

Nair, R., & Maseeh, A. (2012). Vitamin D: The “sunshine” vitamin. Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics, 3(2), 118–126. http://doi.org/10.4103/0976-500X.95506

Putt, S. S., Wijeakumar, S., Franciscus, G. R., Spencer. P. J. The functional brain networks that underlie Early Stone Age tool manufacture. Nature Human Behaviour, 2017

Skoyles R. J. (1999) HUMAN EVOLUTION EXPANDED BRAINS TO INCREASE EXPERTISE CAPACITY, NOT IQ. Psycoloquy: 10(002) brain expertise

Sol, D., Bacher, S., Reader, S., & Lefebvre, L. (2008). Brain Size Predicts the Success of Mammal Species Introduced into Novel Environments. The American Naturalist,172(S1). doi:10.1086/588304

Steen-McIntyre, V. (2008) A Review of the Valsequillo, Mexico Early-Man Archaeological Sites (1962-2004) with Emphasis on the Geological Investigations of Harold E. Malde. Presentation at 2008 Geological Society of America Joint Annual Meeting Oct. 5-9, Houston, Texas

Stringer, C. (2004, October 27). A stranger from Flores. Retrieved May 09, 2017, from http://www.nature.com/news/2004/041027/full/news041025-3.html

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18 Comments

  1. I remember seeing on a site awhile ago on how mixed people have an extra hard time being able to have organ transplants. Something about how their bodies will reject an organ from a person who is not mixed.

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  2. Jm8 says:

    What about denisovans, or some other similar hominid in the heidelbergensis lineage? Could such a group be responsible?

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    • RaceRealist says:

      Maybe. I believe if it is a hominid that’s not sapiens that it has to be erectus. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Denisovans were situated closer to the middle of the Asian continent while erectus lived on the west coast of China, so he could have either took the Aleutian island route or rafted from China to California.

      I await more discoveries from this site. It’s impossible for it to have been sapiens, if this actually did occur 130kya.

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  3. Jm8 says:

    To RR:

    The Denisovan remains we know of are in the middle of Asia, but it is possible that they lived a bit more widely. Melanesians, Australians, and Papuans have Denisovan dna, and though this would likely be from their ancestors passing through a region somewhere to they west of where they now live—maybe somewhere arround the Indian subcontinent or southeast Asia, through or near which they would have passed at some point—(though certainly south of where the Denisovan bone was found, as they have no history of living that far north. It could also possibly be an unknown hominid in the heidelbergensis lineage (a close relative of Denisovans or something less close to them, maybe something closer to us, or to Neanderthals. We don’t know).

    I am pretty skepticlal of Erectus rafting (though I do not rule it out), but rafting across the Pacific is simply not plausible. In Sapiens there is some evidence/indications) of early riverine (and perhaps also for shorter oceanic/sea transportation) rafting/boating in Africa prior to and/or around the OOA (and in early out of Africa groups—and of course later), and Neanderthals might have done it too in the Mediterranean or elsewhere. But the oldest evidence of really far deep sea fishing/travel comes from paleolithic Sapiens in the South Pacific not far from Australia and Papua—and nothing like crossing an entire ocean (let alone the Pacific), which humans (even Sapiens) did not do until relatively recently.

    If Erectus (or any other hominid, but especially in the case of Erectus) made it to America, walking across the Aleutian islands (or a land bridge) seems more likely.

    Sapiens is indeed unlikely (not one hundred percent impossible but very remote), Sapiens has existed since around 200-250,00 bc, and early movements out of Africa are known from at least 100,00 bc (the SKhul Quafzeh people for instance), but to the chance of any sapiens making it there by anything like 130 ka ago is, as mentioned, very remote and highly improbable.

    My guess is some unknown hominid in the Heidelbergensis lineage (all of its branches being generally smarter than their earlier ancestor, Erectus), several new hominids have been discovered in recent years and it is likely that there were many we don’t know about. Hopefully more evidence will be found.

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    • RaceRealist says:

      I don’t’ rule it that it could be Denisovans, just from what we currently know they were situated more towards the middle of the Asian continent, towards Russia. Is how the Denisova lived really known?

      I am pretty skepticlal of Erectus rafting (though I do not rule it out), but rafting across the Pacific is simply not plausible.

      There is some good evidence that he rafted, especially Asian erectus as he may be the parent population of floresiensis. I believe it’s plausible they created rafts, but I am skeptical of crossing the Pacific, but will entertain the idea (I wonder if anyone will attempt to do it one day with the technology they were known to have, would be interesting).

      Neanderthals might have done it too in the Mediterranean or elsewhere

      As cited in my article, and as you said, they went to a few Greek islands. The evidence for their sailing is 100ky old while 200ky can’t be ruled out. However they are far outside the range of California.

      If Erectus (or any other hominid, but especially in the case of Erectus) made it to America, walking across the Aleutian islands (or a land bridge) seems more likely.

      I agree with this. Erectus died out around 143kya, and I seem to remember there is evidence they died out 80kya, so the possibility it is Asian erectus is pretty high.

      My guess is some unknown hominid in the Heidelbergensis lineage (all of its branches being generally smarter than their earlier ancestor, Erectus), several new hominids have been discovered in recent years and it is likely that there were many we don’t know about. Hopefully more evidence will be found.

      This is a good guess and I agree. Since it’s possible that a common ancestor of both floresiensis and Heidi got to Flores, then it’s possible they could have gotten to the Americas. I hope more evidence is found, this finding is huge and could reshape human migratory patterns. Do you think this may be used as evidence for multiregionalism?

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    • Jm8 says:

      To RR:

      “Do you think this may be used as evidence for multiregionalism?”

      I don’t think so, since the remains in America did not come from sapiens and are not ancestral to modern Amerindians, (or not to any significant degree at least if at all in any), whose ancestors came much later from Asia. (The vast or great majority of anyway of) the genetics of all modern humans are still known to trace to (homo sapiens from) Africa within the last 100-70,000 years or so (maybe a little bit longer in the case of early diverging homo sapiens groups like the Khoisan), and the basic behaviorally characteristic modern human behaviors and technologies trace from this African origin, where they are evident early, (though early “proto more simple forms of a few of these behaviors may also date back farther to the common heidelbergensis ancestor of sapiens, neanderthals, denisovans

      Floresiensis, or its immediate ancestor, seems to have developed a somewhat higher level of inteligence in its south east Asian region (though of course lower than that of sapiens and most other heidelbergensis descendants) than erectus had generall (I believe floresiensis used a greater range of tools—including points, perhaps even sometimes hafted—and regularly hunted big game like elephants), without being descended from heidelbergensis. And maybe Floresiensis descended from a for some reason more intelligent branch or Erectus that had developed in the general region.

      The new evidence form America does not seem to have much bearing on the issue of multi/mono regionalism either way.

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    • Jm8 says:

      Edit: “…..and are not ancestral to modern Amerindians, or any other modern people…”

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    • RaceRealist says:

      Jm8,

      It was just a thought. Iargekt discard multiregional models because the OoA makes the most genetic sense. If this finding is robust and it does then out to be Homo sapiens, then damn, we need to rewrite human migratory patterns.

      Floresiensis, or its immediate ancestor, seems to have developed a somewhat higher level of inteligence in its south east Asian region (though of course lower than that of sapiens and most other heidelbergensis descendants) than erectus had generall (I believe floresiensis used a greater range of tools—including points, perhaps even sometimes hafted—and regularly hunted big game like elephants), without being descended from heidelbergensis

      Do you have a source? I doubt they were more intelligent than erectus or Heidi, whichever hominid they descend from. I’m open to being wrong though.

      And maybe Floresiensis descended from a for some reason more intelligent branch or Erectus that had developed in the general region

      Energy availability explains smaller stature. If floresiensis descended from Erectus than the body and brain size reduction would be much more marked than if he descended from Heidi or their common ancestor. However, this is still proof that energy availability drives evolution of brain and body—something I’m trying to get across to Melo on PP’s blog.

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    • Jm8 says:

      “Energy availability explains smaller stature. If floresiensis descended from Erectus than the body and brain size reduction would be much more marked than if he descended from Heidi…”

      I had been under the impression that Floresiensis derived from erectus but not from heidi, but I could be wrong. If it derived from heidi (or something close), its (relative) intelligence would make more sense (which as far as I know was would not likely or necessarily higher than heidelbergensis’, but appears to have been somewhat higher than erectus generally).

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    • Jm8 says:

      Continued:

      If it (floresiensis) descents from heidi, it then seems more likely that more (currently unknown) branches of the heidi lineage may have once lived in the general area—of the South Pacific— (including floresiensis’ immediate ancestor), and branch one of which may be the source of these American mystery hominids.

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    • RaceRealist says:

      I had been under the impression that Floresiensis derived from erectus but not from heidi, but I could be wrong. If it derived from heidi (or something close), its (relative) intelligence would make more sense (which as far as I know was would not likely or necessarily higher than heidelbergensis’, but appears to have been somewhat higher than erectus generally).

      The debate is still out. I think the evidence points to erectus as well, but a recent paper showed that phylogenies show that he’s more likely derived from either Heidi or the common ancestor of Heidi and floresiensis did it. Either way, if it was Asian erectus (which it is possible since erectus skulls have been found on Java), then it would explain the similarities in brain size and anatomy compared to erectus. Either way, brain and body size decreased due to energetic demands. The island rule is pretty powerful.

      If it (floresiensis) descents from heidi, it then seems more likely that more (currently unknown) branches of the heidi lineage may have once lived in the general area—of the South Pacific— (including floresiensis’ immediate ancestor), and branch one of which may be the source of these American mystery hominids.

      Probably. Either way, whatever hominid it was either swam to Flores or rafted. Hominins were on Flores 1 mya. (Brumm et al, 2010). Rafting is a possibility, with swimming a distant one. Heidi lived between 700 and 200 kya. So it was either an ancestor of Heidi or erectus. Some scientists state that Heidelbergensis is derived from Antecessor. Is there any strong consensus on who the ancestor of Heidi was?

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  4. Jm8 says:

    Edit:
    “…200-250,000 bc, and early movements out of Africa are known from at least 100,000 bc…”

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  5. Jm8 says:

    Edit: “…as they—the ancestors of Papuans/Australians/Melanesians/etc.—have no history of living that far north.”

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  6. […] Homo Erectus in America? (Not Politically Correct) […]

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