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Academic labels media reports calling Homo erectus lazy as “moronic”

adult female Homo erectus, Smithsonian/John Gurche (reconstruction), Tim Evanson (photography); CC

Recently, we reported on one of those Darwinian morality tales, according to which homo erectus died out because he was lazy, compared to the rest of us.
Ann Gauger, pointed out that the broader picture (timelines, for example) does not suggest that Homo erectus was lazy.

And now we learn,

“The inference that laziness typifies Homo erectus and that such a failing might have hastened their extinction is moronic,” says Neil Roach, a biological anthropologist at Harvard University. “This is a solid study with interesting results that do contribute significantly to our field, and unfortunately, the press release does exactly the opposite.”

Roach makes his point emphatically, and with good reason—there’s a lot of evidence pointing to H. erectus as anything but lazy. The species survived for more than 1.5 million years. That’s pretty impressive compared to our measly 300,000 or so years on Earth. They may have been one of the first species to migrate out of Africa, says Roach, and are thought to be the first to hunt for food. There’s also evidence that H. erectus was one of the earliest hominins to use fire. Anna Brooks, “Reports of Homo erectus’ laziness are ‘moronic’” at Popular Science

Brooks thinks that laziness got hyped due to “one sentence in the paper, which describes the early hominins as a ‘technologically conservative’ species that used ‘least-effort strategies’ to survive.”

She goes on to note that “least-effort strategies” does not mean laziness; it means accomplishing tasks with a minimum expenditure of energy. Given how hard early man had to work for food, that was likely a smart idea.

Brooks doesn’t discuss “technologically conservative” but the mindset is best summed up as “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Again, for people living on the edge of survival, that is a sound strategy. They can’t afford to take risks not forced on them by nature. Even within historically documented time, many people groups have persisted with the same methods for thousands of years for that very reason.

Prosperous people living in safety can afford unforced risks and errors, but that is a different history.

See also: Researchers: Homo erectus died out because he was lazy and conservative. How do we know homo erectus is extinct (as a separate group)? Well, they certainly wouldn’t have said this stuff about any living group. 😉


Do racial assumptions prevent recognizing Homo erectus as fully human?


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