According to my brief internet searches, Homo erectus was begotten by Homo habilis around 1.8 million years ago, began in Africa, spread into Asia and Europe, and merges into Homo sapiens (us) about 400 000 years ago.

Homo erectus were very successful in developing cultural technologies that allowed them to adapt to new environmental opportunities. They were true pioneers in developing human culture and in moving out of Africa to populate tropical and subtropical environmental zones elsewhere in the Old World, possibly as early as 1.8 million years ago. Surprisingly, however, they remained largely unchanged anatomically until about 600,000 years ago. After that time, there were progressive evolutionary developments in features of the head that were characteristic of modern humans. By about half a million years ago, Homo erectus evidently was able to move into the cooler temperate environmental zones of Asia and the fringes of Europe for the first time. This migration was made possible by greater intelligence and new cultural technologies.

Below the neck, the Homo erectus were anatomically like modern humans.

Tutorial on Human evolution, Dennis O'Neil, http://daphne.palomar.edu/homo/homo_2%20.htm

"new cultural technologies" may refer to the domestication of fire, which is thought to have taken place around half a million years ago. Given the homo symbolicus argument that our tools shape us, perhaps the new technologies were the spur for the "progressive evolutionary developments" that brought us about.

Lived ~1.8mya-200,000ya in a widely distributed range of Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa, Algeria) and later (as of 1.7mya) in Asia (Java, Indonesia and China - see Zhoukoudian.) There is some evidence that Homo erectus was found in Europe because some of the tools used by this species have been found there. Considered the most successful (biologically speaking) hominid species.

Morphology:
  • average cranial capacity of 1000cc with a range of 750-1250cc.
  • had sagital keels, nuchal keels and supra-orbital tori
  • were the height and general size of AMHS at 5-6 feet tall.
  • had less post-orbital constriction than previous species (i.e., the area behind the eyes and before the part of the skull that houses the brain had less of a pinched-in area.)
  • were not actually the first bipeds, per se, but were the first highly efficient bipeds, allowing them to leave Africa.
  • highly variable in size

Firsts:
  • First hominid to appear in fossil record outside of Africa.
  • First to use bifacial tools - Acheulean stone tools.
  • First evidence of controlled use of fire (there are patches of baked earth that date back to approximately 1.4-1.5mya in Kenya, burnt bone in association with Acheulean tools in S. Africa and hearths, burnt bone, cave-dwellilng and smaller incisors - indicative of cooked food - in the Zhokoudian site in what is now China.)
  • First hominid to have a cranial capacity exceeding 1000 cubic centemetres.
fnordian is right in stating that Homo Erectus did have the first controlled use of fire. But the Kenyan sites that he mentions, such as the baked earth at Koobi Fora,are usually attributed to natural occurences of fire, and not contolled use by humans.

The earliest site that everyone agrees is indicative of "controlled use" is the aforementioned site at Zhokoudian in China. This site is dated at about 500,000 years ago.

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