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Homo erectusfeatures used in cladistics and their variability in Asian and African hominids

Journal of Human Evolution
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0047-2484(92)90032-5
  • Homo Erectus
  • Cladistics
  • Autapomorphies
  • Cranium
  • Africa
  • East Asia


This paper focuses on morphological features which are suggested to be uniquely derived character states for East Asian Homo erectus. The assumed restricted occurrence of these features led to the far-reaching conclusion that Asian H. erectus might represent a different species from the African hominids generally attributed to it. In order to demonstrate whether these traits are in fact largely restricted to Asian erectus, we studied most of the African and Asian erectus fossils and representatives of Homo habilis, Australopithecus africanus, and archaic Homo sapiens. To further contribute to the current assessment of these features, this study includes a large sample and variety of hominids, examines the extant variation of the character states and critically evaluates the definition of each characteristic. Our results show that a continuous variation can be assumed for all of the features studied and that simple determinations as discrete character states might lead to rather artificial lists of presence or absence. Moreover, it is shown that all of these features also occur in the African specimens attributed to erectus, and most of them even in H. habilis and A. africanus as well as in African and Asian archaic H. sapiens. Therefore, it appears rather unlikely that these features can continue to be considered as Asian erectus autapomorphies.

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