Upright Man, Fire and Food (Early Humans) Illustration

Early Humans for Kids
Homo Erectus "Upright Man"
1,600,000 BCE to about 300,000 BCE

Approximately one million years ago, early humans started to leave Africa and spread to other continents.  This happened during one or more of the Ice Ages.  With the sea level lowered, early humans were able to cross land bridges between continents.  They crossed into these new lands, probably following herds of animals or in search of food.

These early people were not quite like modern day humans.  They were a little smaller, and only had about 2/3 the brain that modern man had.  Still, the Homo eretus species was the first to look like ... people, because their teeth and jaws were shaped somewhat like our are today. You might think this change in appearance happened over time because their discovery of fire allowed them to cook their food. But, according to Anthropologist, Dr. John J. Shea, that's not true at all. Dr. Shea told us: "The reduction of teeth and jaws due to cooking is a popular idea, but not evolutionarily plausible. If you relax selective pressure for massive jaws--say by cooking food--you get greater variability, not reduced robusticity. Jaw reduction probably had something to do with changes in respiration, maybe speech." (In other words, they looked far more like people do today because that's how they looked!)

They were tool users.  They had stone axes and knives and were probably the first hunters as well as gatherers.  

These early people had fire! 

The discovery and use of fire was very important to early man for many reasons.

  • First, they discovered most animals are afraid of fire.  So a campfire gave some protection to the group or tribe.
  • Second, they could camp in better locations.  A fire allowed them to pick where they camped.  They no longer had to look for trees to climb into or rocks and cliffs to shelter under.
  • Third, it kept them warm.  This goes with the second reason.  They could move into colder climates and hunt the animals that lived there.  They could then return to their campfire to warm up.
  • Fourth, it was a healthier way of life.  Cooked food is less likely to carry disease. These people began to cook their food consistently. As a result, it would have been easier for the young and the old to survive.
  • Fifth, it was a more social grouping.  They could now gather in larger groups, feeling safer and more secure.  This allowed them to exchange stories, and just talk to other people.
  • There were other reasons that having a fire was an improvement in their lives.  Can you think of any?

How do we know so much about Homo Erectus? There have been discoveries of the skeletons of Homo Erectus, most notably the one found near Peking (Beijing) China, which is called the Peking Man.  Archeologists have also found tools and weapons from this time period in other places, which gives a better understand of how they lived and where they lived.


Early Humans Q&A Quiz Interactive


Our thanks to Anthropologist, Dr.  John J.  Shea
(Ph.D., 1991, Harvard University)