Java Man (Homo erectus erectus) is the name given to fossils discovered in 1891 at Trinil - Ngawi Regency on the banks of the Solo River in East Java, Indonesia, one of the first known specimens of Homo erectus. Its discoverer, Eugène Dubois, gave it the scientific name Pithecanthropus erectus, a name derived from Greek and Latin roots meaning upright ape-man.
History and significance
In 1887, Eugène Dubois began to excavate caves in Southeast Asia while working as a military surgeon. Dubois hoped to learn more about human evolution and to discover an ancestor of modern man. With this goal in mind he traveled to Sumatra, but after he failed to find the fossils he was looking for on the island he moved onto Java in 1890. Assisted by convict laborers and two army sergeants, Dubois began searching along the Solo River at Trinil in August of 1891.
Dubois' find was a very incomplete specimen, consisting of a skullcap, a femur, and a few teeth. There is some dissent as to whether all these bones represent the same species. A second, more complete specimen was later discovered in the village of Sangiran, Central Java, 18 km to the north of Solo. This find, a skullcap of similar size to that found by Dubois, was discovered by Berlin-born paleontologist G. H. R. von Koenigswald in 1936. Many more finds have subsequently been made at the Sangiran site, although official reports remain critical of the site's poor presentation and interpretation.
The new date of the Mojokerto child, Dr. Swisher's group [of the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley] has determined, is about 1.81 million years, and the Sangiran fossils are about 1.66 million years old.
Until older human remains were discovered at Taung in South Africa in 1924, Dubois' and Koenigswald's discoveries were the oldest hominid remains ever found. Some scientists of the day suggested Dubois' Java Man as a potential intermediate form between modern humans and the common ancestor we share with the other great apes. The current consensus of anthropologists is that the direct ancestors of modern humans were African populations of Homo erectus (possibly Homo ergaster), rather than the Asian populations exemplified by Java Man and Peking Man.
- List of fossil sites (with link directory)
- How Man Began
- The story of Eugène Dubois's excavations on Homo erectus in Central Java (Youtube video)
- BBC Horizon 34x03 Out of Asia 1997