Animal Database

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Animal Database
Animal Database
Homo heidelbergensis
Homo heidelbergensis bust
Range Africa, western Eurasia.
Scientific Classification
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Mammalia
Order Primates
Family Hominidae
Genus Homo
Species H. heidelbergensis
Conservation Status


Mauer 1

Type specimen Mauer 1.

In 1907 CE, a robustly built jawbone lacking a chin of a previously unknown species of human was discovered in the Grafenrain sandpit at the site of Mauer, near Heidelberg, Germany. This mandible was missing its premolars and first two left molars, but other than that, the jaw was nearly complete. The species was first described by German scentist Otto Schoentensack under the binomial name Homo heidelbergensis meaning 'Heidelberg Man' after the city where the type specimen was discovered. This was groundbreaking, as scientists before this description simply referred early human fossils showing traits similar to both Homo erectus and modern humans as 'archaic' Homo sapiens, Homo erectus, or Homo neanderthalensis.


Hh skull cast

A specimen on display at the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

Homo heidelbergensis has a larger braincase compared to Homo erectus to house their larger brain (1,200 cubic cm and upwards), their skull had a moderate, double arched brow ridge, flat cheek bones compared to Homo neanderthalensis, noses more vertical like ours, nasal opening relatively wide, and face relatively large compared to that of Homo sapiens. Not only did the brain size increase, the enlargement of frontal and parietal lobes of the brain suggest an increase in brain complexity. There is small post-orbital constriction behind the eye sockets and the short forehead was sloped as opposed to the vertical foreheads of modern humans. The jaw is shorter than those of earlier species resulting in a face with only slight projection and their lower jaw was strongly built for the attachment of strong jaw muscles. The teeth, larger than modern humans but smaller than previous species, were arranged in a parabolic shape within the mouth. Some individuals exhibited a retromolar space behind the third molars at the back of the jaw. Others had only a tiny gap or no gap at all.

Males average a height of 5 ft 9 in (175 cm) and weigh 136 lbs (62 kg) while females normally reach a height of 5 ft 2 inch (157 cm) and weigh 112 lbs (51 kg), though these hominins could grow to 5 ft 11 (180 cm) tall. Their built was wide and robust in order to conserve energy in their cold habitat, but interestingly, their lower legs were relatively long, which is an adaptation to maximize heat release in tropical environments. The leg bones are usually thick and strongly built.


Homo heidelbergensis was the first member of the "Homo" genus to inhabit cold areas, arriving in frigid Europe 500,000 years ago. Like most members of the "Homo", it also inhabits the land of its origin, Africa, specifically southern and eastern Africa. Remains from China and India's Narmada Valley have been speculated to belong to the H. heidelbergensis species. Lake Turkana, Bodo, Ndutu, Kabwe, Elandsfontein, Petralona, Mauer, Steinheim, Arago, Boxgrove, Swanscombe and Narmada are significant sites where remains of H. heidelbergensis has been found.


Fossil records show Homo heidelbergensis targeted rhinos, hippopotamus, bears, horses, deer, and other large game.



Evidence suggests this species was capable of controlling fire by building hearths or early fireplaces by 790,000 years ago as fire-altered tools and burnt wood was found at the site of Gesher Benot Ya-aqov in Isreal. Homo heidelbergensis likely used these hearths to socialiize, find comfort and warmth, share food and information, and as a refuge from predators.


Homo heidelbergensis was the first hominin to build shelters, although simple and primitive. They also took advantage of natural shelters, mostly caves, when possible.


Boxgrove hand axe

This specimen is among the many handaxes found at Boxgrove, England.

The tools of Homo heidelbergensis were mostly used for hunting and butchery. Most of their tools were those already used by Homo ergaster. These were large stone tools with flakes remobed from two sides to produce bifacial stone hand axes, cleavers, and carvers classified as Mode 2 technology. Certain populations later developed tools of deer antler, bone, and wood modified into scrapers, hammers, and sophisticated wooden throwing spears.


Though no articles of clothing produced by Homo heidelbergensis have survived to modern day, clothing must be necessary to survive in the cold environment of Europe. Additionally, many the hides of the animals Homo heidelbergensis hunted are ideal for creating clothing out of, but are also hard to preserve.


Regional variations appeared in the Homo heidelbergensis species as 300,000 years ago, a severe cold, dry period began and the Sahara cut off connection between African and Eurasian populations.

The skillful hunting and butchering of large game shows the ability to coordinate, cooperate, and communicate between members of groups. Like many hominins, Homo heidelbergensis may have conducted rituals and believed in the afterlife. In a site in Atapuerca, northern Spain, 30 Homo heidelbergensis were deliberately thrown in a pit about 400,000 years ago. The pit has been named Sima de los Huesos (‘Pit of Bones’) after the many bones found there.

Place in Evolution[]

The place of Homo heidelbergensis has been debated as some fossils described as Homo heidelbergensis possess transitional features, but many researchers now accept Homo heidelbergensis as a distinct species.

It is hypothesized that around 780,000-700,000 years ago, Homo heidelbergensis evolved from Homo erectus. The species then evolved into Homo sapiens (African population), Homo neanderthalensis (Eurasian population), and possibly the Denisovans, sometime between 350,000-400,000 years ago.

Works Cited[]

Dorey, Fran. "Homo heidelbergensis." The Australian Museum,

    Accessed 10 Sept. 2022.

Groeneveld, Emma. "Homo Heidelbergensis." World History Encyclopedia, Accessed 10 Sept. 2022.

"Homo heidelbergensis." The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History,

    Smithsonian Institution, Accessed 10 Sept. 2022.

"Mystery Skull Interactive." The Smithsonian Natioanal Museum of Natural

    History, Smithsonian Institution, Accessed 10

    Sept. 2022.