As experts say here…
If you bumped into a Homo erectus in the street you might not recognise them as being very different from you. You’d see a certain “human-ness” in the stance, and his or her size and shape might be similar to yours.
But their face would be flatter, with a more obvious brow. And having a conversation would be hard – his or her language skills would be poor (although they could certainly craft a stone tool or light a fire).
Of course this is entirely hypothetical, as Homo erectus is now extinct. This enigmatic human ancestor probably evolved in Africa more than 2 million years ago, although the timing of their disappearance is less clear.Ian Moffat, “A snapshot of our mysterious ancestor Homo erectus” at Phys.org
Hmm. At least we can know about the tools and the fire. But, in the context, what does it mean to say “his or her language skills would be poor.” What would that actually mean?
One of the most contentious aspects of Homo erectus is who to include in the species. While many researchers include a wide range of specimens from around the world as Homo erectus, some classify the African and Eurasian specimens as Homo ergaster. Others use the terms Homo erectus senso stricto (ie. in the narrow sense) for the Asian specimens and Homo erectus senso lato (ie. in the broad sense) for all specimens.
This somewhat confusing situation is actually far clearer than the early history of Homo erectus where a wide range of names including Anthropopithecus, Homo leakeyi, Pithecanthropus, Sinanthropus, Meganthropus, and Telanthropus were used. The reason for this complexity is that Homo erectus (whatever you choose to call them) have a comparatively wide range of morphological characteristics making it difficult to decide how much diversity to include within the definition of the species.Ian Moffat, “A snapshot of our mysterious ancestor Homo erectus” at Phys.org
In short, we don’t know but we can at least invent imposing names.
See also: Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness
Do racial assumptions prevent recognizing Homo erectus as fully human?
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