In 1887, the Dutch paleoanthropologist Eugène Dubois traveled to Java Island, Indonesia, to find fossil evidence of human evolution. After several years of continuous excavations, he miraculously discovered fossil hominids in 1891, including a skullcap and a femur from the bank of the Solo River at Trinil in East Java. In 1894, Dubois named the species Pithecanthropus erectus (later classified as Homo erectus, meaning ‘upright man’), as he thought the fossil was the transitional form - the so-called ‘missing link’ - between apes and humans, because at that time, people believed that the human ancestor was the ‘erect ape-man’.
Then, in 1969, a farmer found a well-preserved skull fossil in a field in Sangiran, Central Java. This fossil, named Sangiran 17, has a smaller brain than Homo sapiens, and displays the typical characteristics of H. erectus such as large brow ridges and a less protrusive lower yet strong jaw. Therefore, Sangiran 17 was also classified as Homo erectus along with the fossils found by Dubois. Pithecanthropus erectus (later classified as Homo erectus), which is also known as Java Man, constitutes evidence that the species rapidly spread out eastwards and out of Africa. The multi-regional evolution theory used Indonesia’s Java Man as its theoretical basis for a long time, explaining that modern humans evolved from H. erectus in many other regions of the world one to two million years ago. However, the ‘out of Africa’ theory is now the most widely accepted model, suggesting that the ancestors of modern humans appeared about 150,000 years ago, based on recent studies of mitochondrial DNA.
Place of Settlement: Java, Indonesia
Period: Approx. 800,000 years ago
Discovery Site: Sangiran, Indonesia
Species: Homo erectus
Cranial Capacity: 1029cc
Major Characteristics: The fossil is a significant discovery, showing that the hominin species settled in another continent out of Africa.